by Janice Murray, John Wesley Scholar, Class of 2016
Though we take part in an Honors College that bears John Wesley’s name at a Wesleyan university, how much do we actually know about John Wesley?
Perhaps you’re pretty familiar with his story, or like me (before I wrote this article), you have only a fuzzy idea of the basics. Well, hopefully this will fix that void in your life.
John Wesley was born in 1703, one of nineteen children of an Anglican minister in the town of Epworth. His mother was responsible for his early education. He then had six years of formal schooling before he attended Christ Church College of Oxford.
At Oxford, he joined a group founded by his brother (Charles Wesley); group members promised to live holy lives and take part in certain Christian practices and were mockingly labeled members of the “holy club” by classmates.
He was ordained in the Anglican church, began to preach often, and earned his master’s degree, continuing to seek to live a holy life. Shortly after his father’s death in 1735, Wesley set sail for Georgia, but returned to England a few years later. During these trans-Atlantic trips, he began to realize that something was missing from his Christianity; it was based on force of will, not on trust in God.
In May of 1738, he underwent a conversion experience during a meeting in a house on Aldersgate Street. Soon after, he began working with fellow Holy Club alumnus George Whitefield, who needed help because of the overwhelming response to his preaching. Though the two eventually split over doctrinal differences, the experience helped Wesley gain familiarity with working outside (though not against) the Anglican Church and dealing with emotional conversions and faith. He continued preaching after his split with Whitefield, and those who followed him came to be known as “methodists” and were quite unpopular. Though he set up an internal structure of leadership and sent some workers to the U.S., the Methodists did not split from the Church of England during his lifetime; he was an Anglican at his death.
In case you were wondering: nope, Wesley did not start the Wesleyan denomination. The denomination’s website says that the denomination was named in his honor, and many of his beliefs (i.e., entire sanctification) are represented in the Wesleyan Church, but the only group that he started directly was what is now the Methodist denomination.
If you’re still curious, here are some sites that can help you learn more about Wesley: