Biography of John Wesley


JOHN WESLEY, the founder of Methodism, was born at Epworth, Lincolnshire, England, June 17th 1703. The family name was variously spelled Wesley and Westley, and is supposed to be the same with Wellesley and to be derived from a place of that name near Wells.

John Wesley was a very diligent and successful student. The religious history of his college life belongs to the history of Methodism. After much conscientious hesitation as to his motives and his fitness for entering the clerical profession, he was ordained deacon in 1725, and in 1726, he graduated as M.A., and was elected fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford. In the same year he was appointed Greek lecturer and moderator of the classes. He became curate to his father at Wroote, and whilst serving here was advanced to priest's orders in 1728. He returned to Oxford, and along with his brother Charles entered into those religious associations from which Methodism sprang. In 1735, John Wesley was induced to go out to Georgia, with General Ogelthorpe, to preach to the Indians and Colonists. He attempted to establish a discipline in the Colony very different from that of the Church of England at home, and failed in the attempt. Finding Savannah no suitable place for him, and as he said "shaking the dust off his feet," he returned to England, having resided in America not quite two years. With religious zeal undiminished, he maintained an intimate connection with the Moravians in London. After this he visited the Moravian brethren at Herrnhut Germany, and made the acquaintance of Zinzendorf and was introduced to the Prince Royal of Prussia, afterwards Frederick the Great. Returning to England, he became associated with his old college companion, Whitefield, and after his example began in 1759, the practice of open air preaching. From this time the history of Wesley's life becomes very much the history of Methodism. In 1740, he solemnly separated himself from the Moravians, finding that he differed from them on important points of doctrine; and in the same year the breach took place between him and Whitefield, which divided the Methodists into two sections, Calvanistic and Arminian.

In the evangelistic work which he carried on in England and in organizing the Methodist body, Wesley was indefatigable. He seldom travelled less than forty miles a day, usually on horse-back, till near the close of his life, when he used a chaise. In 1752, he married a widow, with four children, but the marriage proved an unhappy one, and a separation ensued. His health gradually declined during the last three years of his life, and after a short illness he died in London, March 2nd, 1791, in the 88th year of his age. Probably no man ever exerted so great an influence on the religious condition of England as John Wesley, and his influence has extended to the most remote parts of the world.