But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. — Read Ephesians 2:1-10
All about John Wesley (1703-1791)
John Wesley lived for most of the 18th century . He was the world-famous founder of Methodism which is alive and well in many forms all over Creation right now.
John and his brother, Charles, were twentysomethings when they began to meet as the “Holy Club” they founded at Oxford. They read spiritual classics and tried to apply what they read to their lives and encourage one another. It sounds a lot like a cell meeting.
In 1735 John and Charles went on a missionary trip to the colony of Georgia. John returned very discouraged that he couldn’t translate his ideas about God in effective ways for the people of the colony (plus, he fell in love with a local woman and the relationship did not work out very well).
In this period of discouragement, he became friends with a Moravian preacher, Peter Boehler. At a small religious meeting connected to the Moravians in Aldersgate Street, London, on May 24, 1738, John had an experience with God that changed his life. He famously described this experience as having his heart “strangely warmed.” This personal encounter with God prompted John to spend the rest of his life energetically encouraging others to meet God personally. This encounter with God seems to have caused his faith to move from mostly his head to his heart; it activated a deep dependence on God’s grace and a whole new way of living that he then shared with thousands of people.
Wesley’s faith was devoted to social justice as well as preaching. It is hard to overestimate how large a transforming force the Methodists were in England and the United States in the 17 and 1800s. They can be congratulated for being instrumental in the abolition of slavery by England, as well as in uplifting the poor in countless ways.
Notable quotes from Wesley:
- Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.
- Earn all you can, give all you can, save all you can.
- “Holy solitaries” is a phrase no more consistent with the Gospel than holy adulterers. The Gospel of Christ knows no religion but social; no holiness, but social holiness.
- Every one, though born of God in an instant, yet undoubtedly grows by slow degrees.
- When I was young I was sure of everything. In a few years, having been mistaken a thousand times, I was not half so sure of most things as I was before. At present, I am hardly sure of anything but what God has revealed to me.
- Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.
- Catch on fire and people will come for miles to see you burn.
- God does nothing except in response to believing prayer.
- Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon Earth.
- As for reputation, though it be a glorious instrument of advancing our Master’s service, yet there is a better than that: a clean heart, a single eye, and a soul full of God. A fair exchange if, by the loss of reputation, we can purchase the lowest degree of purity of heart.
- Our church did some theology about being radical in 2016 and John Wesley was the example. Check out this material that relates: Radical Energy at 3000 Feet, and Are We Visible Enough?
Article from Christian History magazine [link]
2009 film Wesley includes June Lockhart, playing his mother Susannah. There are quite a few films to watch: John Wesley: The faith that Sparked the Methodist Movement (2020 documentary using scenes from 2009 film) and one from 1954 John Wesley.
Interesting look at Methodist history in England [link]
Wesley’s books were best sellers. As he got richer, he got more generous, as the following story about his financial discipline shows.
While at Oxford, an incident changed Wesley’s perspective on money. He had just finished paying for some pictures for his room when one of the chambermaids came to his door. It was a cold winter day, and he noticed that she had nothing to protect her except a thin linen gown. He reached into his pocket to give her some money to buy a coat but found he had too little left. Immediately the thought struck him that the Lord was not pleased with the way he had spent his money. He asked himself, “Will thy Master say, ‘Well done, good and faithful steward?’ Thou hast adorned thy walls with the money which might have screened this poor creature from the cold! O justice! O mercy! Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid?”
Perhaps as a result of this incident, in 1731 Wesley began to limit his expenses so that he would have more money to give to the poor. He records that one year his income was 30 pounds and his living expenses 28 pounds, so he had 2 pounds to give away. The next year his income doubled, but he still managed to live on 28 pounds, so he had 32 pounds to give to the poor. In the third year, his income jumped to 90 pounds. Instead of letting his expenses rise with his income, he kept them to 28 pounds and gave away 62 pounds. Even when his income rose into the thousands of pounds sterling, he lived simply, and he quickly gave away his surplus money. One year his income was a little over 1400 pounds. He lived on 30 pounds and gave away nearly 1400 pounds.
Favorite works about Wesley:
- Howard Snyder’s book: The Radical Wesley: The Patterns and Practices of a Movement Maker (2014 edition)
- White and Butler’s article: John Wesley’s Church Planting Movement: Discipleship That Transformed a Nation and Changed the World (2011).
What do we do with this?
John Wesley caused enormous change in the lives of individuals and in both England and the United States by giving people practical ways to live out radical faith. Many churches today reflect his methods. Do you connect with others to be a force for change, or do you kind of do your own thing? That would be one of his questions for you. [Wesley’s 22 Questions]
Ask God to move you from your head to heart—or just anywhere.