John Wesley (28 of June 1703 – 2 March 1791) was an Anglican divine and theologian who, with his brother Charles Wesley and fellow cleric George Whitefield, is credited with the foundation of the evangelical movement known as Methodism.
Samuel Wesley was a graduate of the University of Oxford and a poet who, since 1696, had been rector of Epworth.
He had married Susanna, the twenty-fifth child of Samuel Annesley, a Dissenting minister, in 1689.
Ultimately, she bore him nineteen children, of which nine lived beyond infancy.
She and Samuel Wesley had both become members of the Church of England as young adults.
A key step in the development of Wesley’s ministry was, like Whitefield, to travel and preach outdoors.
In contrast to Whitefield’s Calvinism, however, Wesley embraced the Arminian doctrines that dominated the Church of England at the time.
Moving across Great Britain, North America and Ireland, he helped to form and organise small Christian groups that developed intensive and personal accountability, discipleship and religious instruction.
Most importantly, he appointed itinerant, unordained evangelists to travel and preach as he did and to care for these groups of people.
Under Wesley’s direction, Methodists became leaders in many social issues of the day, including prison reform and abolitionism.
He held that, in this life, Christians could achieve a state where the love of God “reigned supreme in their hearts”, giving them outward holiness.
His evangelicalism, firmly grounded in sacramental theology, maintained that means of grace were the manner by which God sanctifies and transforms the believer, encouraging people to experience Jesus Christ personally.
It was on the voyage to the colonies that the Wesleys first came into contact with Moravian settlers.
Wesley was influenced by their deep faith and spirituality rooted in pietism.
At one point in the voyage a storm came up and broke the mast off the ship.
While the English panicked, the Moravians calmly sang hymns and prayed.
This experience led Wesley to believe that the Moravians possessed an inner strength which he lacked.
The deeply personal religion that the Moravian pietists practised heavily influenced Wesley’s theology of Methodism.
Wesley arrived in the colony in February 1736.
He approached the Georgia mission as a High Churchman, seeing it as an opportunity to revive “primitive Christianity” in a primitive environment.
Although his primary goal was to evangelize the Native Americans, a shortage of clergy in the colony largely limited his ministry to European settlers in Savannah.
While his ministry has often been judged to have been a failure in comparison to his later success as a leader in the Evangelical Revival, Wesley gathered around him a group of devoted Christians who met in a number of small group religious societies.
At the same time, attendance at church services and communion increased over the course of nearly two years in which he served as Savannah’s parish priest.
He died at 88, still preaching, still traveling, and still a clergyman of the Church of England.
In 1784, however, he had given the Methodist societies a legal constitution, and in the same year he ordained Thomas Coke for ministry in the United States; this action signaled an independent course for Methodism.