Our Methodist Roots
The founder of the Methodist Movement, John Wesley, was born in 1703 to Samuel and Susanna Wesley, in Epworth, where his father was appointed a rector in the Church of England. John was the 15th of 19 children, but only 9 of his siblings survived beyond infancy. Susanna ran a household with a strict discipline of prayer and schooling, which clearly influenced John in later life. All of her children, including the girls, were taught to read at age 5, using the Bible as their text.
When John was 5 years old, the Wesley home caught fire. All of the family made it out safely, except John, who was stranded in an upper room. Neighbors climbed on each other’s shoulders to rescue him just before the house collapsed. This incident led Susanna and John to believe that he was a “brand plucked from the fire.”
John attended Oxford University with his brother, Charles, and became the leader of a small Christian club who were very serious about living a devout Christian life that included hours of daily prayer and study, weekly communion and fasting, and the regular visiting of prisoners, and caring for the sick and poor. Because of their strict methods of daily disciplines, others began to call them names such as “Methodists.”
John and Charles were both ordained in the Church of England. In October 1735, the brothers were sent to Savannah, Georgia. While sailing to America, a storm came up that nearly destroyed the ship. While he himself was terrified, John was impressed with a group of German Moravians, who calmly sang songs and prayed, seemingly unafraid of the storm.
John’s ministry in America ended in failure and he returned to England. He wrote in his Journal, “I went to America to convert the Indians; but O! who shall convert me? Who shall deliver me from this heart of unbelief? O, who will deliver me from the fear of death?”
While back in England, on May 24, 1728, at a Moravian meeting in London, John had a conversion experience that would forever change him and his ministry. He wrote in his journal, "In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther's Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."
With a renewed spiritual vigor, John began preaching salvation by faith alone in churches around the London area, but was largely shut out due to differences with church leaders. A long-time friend from his Holy Club days in Oxford, George Whitefield, encouraged John to begin preaching outdoors in open fields near Bristol. In 1739, a rival broke about among the miners, and he began to organize these new converts into Methodist “societies.” For the next 50 years, Wesley traveled on horseback more than 250,000 miles giving over 42,000 sermons, and writing more than 233 books. Charles Wesley wrote over 5000 hymns, many of which we still sing today! Wesley believed that the whole world was his parish, meaning that wherever he was, it was his duty to share with all who were willing to listen, the good news of salvation.