John Wesley

1703 - 1791

John Wesley by John Michael Williams
Curtesy of OCMCH

John was born at Epworth Rectory in Linconshire, the second son and fifteenth child of Rev Samuel and Susannah Wesley. John was educated at Charterhouse School in London and was admitted as a commoner to Christ Church, Oxford in June 1720. John lived the life of a typical student of the time, visiting coffee houses, playing games and exploring the local area as well as reading and keeping a diary.

He completed his BA in 1724 and followed the family tradition of entering Holy Orders. He was made a deacon in Christ Church in 1725. Much to the pleasure of his father he was elected a fellow of Lincoln College in March 1726. Wesley was ordained in 1728, having left Oxford the previous year to assist his father in Wroot, a neighbouring parish to Epworth.

He returned to Oxford to resume his tutorial duties in 1729. It was during this time that he began to think deeply and read intensively about religion, joining with his brother Charles and friends in a regular schedule of prayer, study and social outreach. Soon he became the natural leader of the group which won unflattering names such as ‘The Holy Club’ and ‘Methodists’, the name that finally stuck. It was this group that Wesley was to look back on as the ‘first rise of Methodism.’

There was some concern both within his family and amongst his colleagues that Wesley was becoming over zealous and a bad influence. Unfavourable criticism followed and some members dissociated themselves from the Holy Club. In 1735 John Wesley left Oxford to travel to Georgia with the intention of taking the Gospel to native Americans. He returned discouraged by his ministry but inspired by the faith of Moravians with whom he had travelled.

Following his life transforming conversion experience in 1738, John included Oxford in his travels and remained a fellow of Lincoln College until his marriage in 1751. He was appointed¬† to preach before the university in St Mary’s Church in August 1744. His sermon ‘Scriptural Christianity’ criticised the university for spiritual apathy. It is perhaps no surprise that he was not invited again.

The university began to discourage students from associating with Methodists and some students were expelled. From 1744 until the first meeting house was opened, Wesley usually preached in private houses to townsfolk when he visited the city.

As with the university, the city were also suspicious of Methodism, but despite these set backs, a meeting house was opened at 32-34 New Inn Hall Street. Wesley preached there on 14th July 1783. Since his days as a young fellow in Oxford, he had also preached in the villages around Oxford. This he continued to do while he was able.

Towards the end of the 1780s he health began to fail. He died on 2nd March 1791, aged 88.

Wesley’s skills as an organiser, his profound faith and strong personality helped forge Methodism into a movement that was able to continue after his death, albeit with challenges and changes to come.

He profoundly changed people’s views on Christianity and although his ministry in Oxford was not always welcome, his influence lived on. It is interesting to speculate whether the Oxford Movement would have happened, had the Methodist movement not preceded it.



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