Exerpt: John Wesley,
Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible: The Book of John, (1765)
John Wesley (28 June [O.S. 17 June] 1703 – 2 March 1791) was an Anglican cleric and Christian theologian who founded the Arminian Methodist movement. "Methodism" was originally an unflattering nickname of the "Holy Club" at Oxford University founded by Charles Wesley but led by brother John. Methodism was well advanced in England through George Whitefield who had taken over the responsibility of the Holy Club while the Wesley brothers were in Savannah, Georgia British North America.
On John Wesley's return to England in 1737 he publicly criticised Whitefield for his evangelical preaching. After John's Aldersgate experience in which he felt his heart "strangely warmed", he adopted what was to become known as "Arminian Evangelical Methodism" (John Fletcher of Madelay's later description). The Wesley Methodist Movement began when John Wesley was asked to take over the open-air preaching started by George Whitefield at Hanham Mount, Kingswood, Bristol, U.K. Methodism was effectively divided into Arminian and Calvinistic groupings when George Whitefield departed for a second time in 1739 to Savannah to found the Bethleham Orphanage.
Conversion; Open-air Preaching
As Wesley's spiritual state is the key to his whole career, an account of his conversion in the year of his return from Georgia may not be omitted. For ten years he had fought against sin, striven to fulfil the law of the Gospel, endeavored to manifest his righteousness; but he had not, he wrote, obtained freedom from sin, nor the witness of the Spirit, because he sought it, not by faith, but " by the works of the law." He had learned from the Moravians that true faith was inseparably connected with dominion over sin and constant peace proceeding from a sense of forgiveness, and that saving faith is given in a moment.
This saving faith he obtained May 24, 1737-38, at a Moravian meeting in Aldersgate Street, London, while listening to the reading of Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans, in which explanation of faith and the doctrine of justification by faith is given. "I felt," he wrote, " 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." Two or three weeks later he preached a remarkable sermon, enforcing the doctrine of present personal salvation by faith, which was followed by another, on God's grace " free in all, and free for all." He never ceased in his whole subsequent career to preach this doctrine and that of the witness of the Spirit. He allied himself with the Moravian society in Fetter Lane, and in 1738 went to Herrnhut, the Moravian headquarters in Germany, to learn more of a people to whom he felt deeply indebted. On his return to England he drew up rules for the bands into which the Fetter Lane Society was divided, and published a collection of hymns for them. He met frequently with this and other religious societies in London, but did not preach often in 1738, because most of the parish churches were closed to him.
His friend, George Whitefield, the great evangelist, upon his return from America, was likewise excluded from the churches of Bristol; and, going to the neighboring village of Kingswood, he there preached in the open air, Feb., 1739, to a company of miners. This was a bold step, and Wesley hesitated to accept Whitefield's earnest request to follow him in this innovation. But he overcame his scruples, and in April preached his first sermon in the open air, near Bristol. He said he could hardly reconcile himself to field-preaching, and would have thought, " till very lately," such a method of saving souls as " almost a sin."
These open-air services were very successful; and he never again hesitated to preach in any place where an assembly could be got together, more than once using his father's tombstone at Epworth as a pulpit. He spent upward of fifty years in field-preaching-entering churches when he was invited, taking his stand in the fields, in halls, cottages, and chapels, when the churches would not receive him.
Late in 1739 a rupture with the Moravians in London occurred. Wesley had helped them organize in May, 1738, the Fetter Lane Society; and the converts of the preaching of himself, his brother, and Whitefield, had become members of their bands. But finding, as he said, that they had fallen into heresies, especially quietism, a separation took place; and so, at the close of 1739, Wesley was led to form his followers into a separate society. "Thus," he wrote, "without any previous plan, began the Methodist Society in England." Similar societies were soon formed in Bristol and Kingswood, and wherever Wesley and his coadjutors made converts.
Persecutions Lay Preaching
From 1739 onward Wesley and the Methodists were persecuted by clergymen and magistrates, attacked in sermon, tract, and book, mobbed by the populace, often in controversy, always at work among the neglected and needy, and ever increasing. They were denounced as promulgators of strange doctrines, fomenters of religious disturbances; as blind fanatics, leading the people astray, claiming miraculous gifts, inveighing against the clergy of the Church of England, and endeavoring to reestablish popery.
Wesley was frequently mobbed, and great violence was done both to the persons and property of Methodists. Seeing, however, that. the church failed in its duty to call sinners to repentance, that its clergymen were worldly minded, and that souls were perishing in their sins, he regarded himself as commissioned of God to warn men to flee from the wrath to come; and no opposition, or persecution, or obstacles were permitted by him to prevail against the divine urgency and authority of his commission.
The prejudices of his High-church training, his strict notions of the methods and proprieties of public worship, his views of the apostolic succession and the prerogatives of the priest, even his most cherished convictions, were not allowed to stand in the way in which Providence seemed to lead. Unwilling that ungodly men should perish in their sins and unable to reach them from the pulpits of the Church, he began field-preaching.
Seeing that he and the few clergymen cooperating with him could not do the work that needed to be done, he was led, as early as 1739, to approve tacitly, soon after openly, of lay preaching; and men who were not episcopally ordained were permitted to preach and do pastoral work. Thus one of the great features of Methodism, to which it has largely owed its success, was adopted by Wesley in answer to a necessity. Chapels and Organizations
Advocacy of Arminianism
Wesley was a strong controversialist. The most notable of his controversies was that on Calvinism. His father was of the Arminian school in the church; but John settled the question for him self while in college, and expressed himself strongly against the doctrines of election and reprobation. Whitefield inclined to Calvinism.
In his first tour in America, he embraced the views of the New England school of Calvinism; and when Wesley preached a sermon on Free Grace, attacking predestination as blasphemous, as representing " God as worse than the devil," Whitefield besought him (1739) not to repeat or publish the discourse.
He deprecated a dispute or discussion. "Let us," he said, "offer salvation freely to all," but be silent about election. Wesley's sermon was published, and among the many replies to it was one by Whitefield. Separation followed in 1741. Wesley wrote of it, that those who held universal redemption did not desire separation, but " those who held particular redemption would not hear of any accommodation."
Whitefield, Harris, Cennick, and others, became the founders of Calvinistic Methodism Whitefield. and Wesley, however, were soon again on very friendly terms, and their friendship remained thenceforth unbroken, though they traveled different paths.
Occasional publications appeared on Calvinistic doctrines, by Wesley and others; but in 1770 the controversy broke out anew with violence and bitterness. Toplady, Berridge, Rowland, Richard Hill, and others were engaged on the one side, and Wesley and Fletcher chiefly on the other side. Toplady was editor of The Gospel Magazine, which was filled with the controversy.
Wesley in 1778 began the publication of The Arminian Magazine, not, he said, to convince Calvinists, but to preserve Methodists; not to notice opponents, but to teach the truth that "God willeth all men to be saved." A "lasting peace" he thought could be secured in no other way.
The doctrines which Wesley revived, restated, and emphasized in his sermons and writings, are present personal salvation by faith, the witness of the Spirit, and sanctification. The second he defined thus: "the testimony of the Spirit is an inward impression on the soul of believers, whereby the spirit of God directly testifies to their spirit that they are the children of God."
Sanctification he spoke of (1790) as the "grand depositum which God has lodged with the people called `Methodists'; and, for the sake of propagating this chiefly, he appears to have raised them up."He taught that sanctification was obtainable instantaneously by faith, between justification and death.
It was not "sinless perfection" that he contended for; but he believed that those who are "perfect in love" feel no sin, feel nothing but love. He was very anxious that this doctrine should be constantly preached for the system of Wesleyan Arminianism, the foundations of which were laid by Wesley and Fletcher.
Personality and Activities
Wesley was the busiest man in England. He traveled almost constantly, generally on horseback, preaching twice or thrice a day. He formed societies, opened chapels examined and commissioned preachers, administered discipline, raised funds for schools, chapels, and charities, prescribed for the sick, superintended schools and orphanages, prepared commentaries and a vast amount of other religious literature, replied to attacks on Methodism, conducted controversies, and carried on a prodigious correspondence.
He is believed to have traveled in the course of his itinerant ministry more than 250,000 miles, and to have preached more than 40,000 times. The number of works he wrote, translated, or edited, exceeds 200. The list includes sermons, commentaries, hymns, a Christian library of fifty volumes, and other religious literature-grammars, dictionaries, and other text-books, as well as political tracts. He is said to have received not less than £20,000 for his publications, but he used little of it for himself. His charities were limited only by his means.
He died poor. He rose at four in the morning, lived simply and methodically, and was never idle, unless by compulsion. In person he was rather under the medium height, well proportioned, strong, with a bright eye, a clear complexion, and a saintly, intellectual face.
He married very unhappily, at the age of forty-eight, a widow, and had no children. He died, after a short illness in which he had great spiritual peace and joy, leaving as the result of his life-work 135,000 members, and 541 itinerant preachers, owning the name " Methodist."
Wesley's mind was of a logical cast. His conceptions were clear, his perceptions quick. His thought clothed itself easily and naturally in pure, terse, vigorous language. His logical acuteness, self-control, and Scholarly acquirements made him a strong controversialist. He wrote with a ready pen. His written sermons are characterized by spiritual earnestness and by simplicity. They are doctrinal, but not dogmatic; expository, argumentative, practical.
His Notes on the New Testament (1755) are luminous and suggestive. Both the Sermons (of which there are about 140) and the Notes are in the Methodist course of study, and are doctrinal standards He was a fluent, impressive, persuasive, powerful preacher, producing striking effects.
He preached generally extemporaneously and briefly, though occasionally at great length, using manuscript only for special occasions. As an organizer, an ecclesiastical general, and a statesman he was eminent. He knew well how to marshal and control men, how to achieve purposes. He had in his hands the powers of a despot; yet he so used them as not only not to provoke rebellion, but to inspire love.
His mission was to spread " Scriptural holiness "; his means and plans were such as Providence indicated. The course thus marked out for hirn he pursued with a determination, a fidelity, from which nothing could swerve him. Wesley's prose Works were first collected by himself (32 vols., Bristol, 1771-74, frequently reprinted in editions varying greatly in the number of volumes).
His chief prose works are a standard publication in seven octavo volumes of the Methodist Book Concern, New York. The Poetical Works of John and Charles, ed. G. Osborn, appeared 13 viols., London, 1868-72. Besides his Sermons and Notes already referred to, are his, Journals (originally published in twenty parts, London, 1740-89; new ed. by N. Curnock, is to contain notes from unpublished diaries, 6 vols., vols. i.-ii., London and New York, 1909-11, which are of great interest; The Doctrine of Original Sin (Bristol, 1757; in reply to Dr. John Taylor of Norwich); an Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion (originally published in three parts; 2d ed., Bristol, 1743), an elaborate defense of Methodism, describing with great vigor the evils of the times in society and the church; a Plain Account of Christian Perfection (1766).
- exerpt from: H. K. CARROLL
John Wesley, the celebrated preacher and founder of the Methodist Church, was a life-long opponent of slavery. His biography is well known, and is told in many places, both on the web and in many published works, so this article will focus mainly on his activities as a campaigner against slavery. His opposition to slavery and the slave trade began long before the issue had received widespread attention, and was sustained throughout his life. Indeed, his attitudes to slavery were formed early. In 1736-7 Wesley visited the then British colony of Georgia in North America where he came into contact with slaves. At the same time, he read Thomas Southerne's play Oroonoko, which was based on Aphra Behn's novel of the same name, and which related the tragedy of Oroonoko, an African prince kidnapped and sold into slavery. On his return to England, he passed the time on the long transatlantic voyage by teaching a young black man, presumably a slave, how to read and write.
These experiences fostered in Wesley an abhorrence of slavery, but it was not an abhorrence he felt able to act upon. In his journal, Wesley records meeting with people involved in the slave trade - including the slave-ship captain John Newton, now more famous as the author of the hymn "Amazing Grace". Newton's conversion to Christianity was later followed by a conversion to anti-slavery, but it is not recorded if he and Wesley discussed the issue. In 1772, the Somerset case, brought before the courts by Granville Sharp, put slavery in the news. Wesley, putting aside Laurence Sterne's Sentimental Journey (a book he described as marked by: "oddity, uncouthness, and unlikeness to all the world") took up instead Some historical account of Guinea, a work of anti-slavery by the Philadelphia Quaker, Anthony Benezet. Wesley recorded his thoughts in his journal:
Wed. 12.-In returning I read a very different book, published by an honest Quaker, on that execrable sum of all villanies, commonly called the Slave-trade. I read of nothing like it in the heathen world, whether ancient or modern; and it infinitely exceeds, in every instance of barbarity, whatever Christian slaves suffer in Mahometan countries.
Clearly Benezet's work, and Lord Mansfield's deliberations in the case of James Somerset, gave Wesley some disquiet for, two years later, in 1774, he issued a short pamphlet called Thoughts Upon Slavery which went into four editions in two years. The pamphlet follows Benezet's work in many respects, discussing African topology and society, the method of procuring and transporting slaves, and the brutality of plantation life before advancing legal and moral arguments against both slavery and the slave trade. Wesley shows "that all slavery is as irreconcileable to Justice as to Mercy" before concluding, first with a direct address to the slave-trader and slave-owner, and finally with a prayer. The direct address is worth reproducing at length, as Wesley attacks the slave-trader with considerable passion:
Are you a man? Then you should have an human heart. But have you indeed? What is your heart made of? Is there no such principle as Compassion there? Do you never feel another's pain? Have you no Sympathy? No sense of human woe? No pity for the miserable? When you saw the flowing eyes, the heaving breasts, or the bleeding sides and tortured limbs of your fellow-creatures, was you a stone, or a brute? Did you look upon them with the eyes of a tiger? When you squeezed the agonizing creatures down in the ship, or when you threw their poor mangled remains into the sea, had you no relenting? Did not one tear drop from your eye, one sigh escape from your breast? Do you feel no relenting now? If you do not, you must go on, till the measure of your iniquities is full. Then will the Great GOD deal with You, as you have dealt with them, and require all their blood at your hands.
Wesley remained actively opposed to slavery until his death. In August 1787, he wrote to the Abolition Committee to express his support, and he pledged to reprint Thoughts Upon Slavery in "a new large edition". For some reason this fifth edition did not appear until 1792, a year after Wesley's death. In 1788, when the abolition campaign was at its height, he preached a sermon in Bristol, one of the foremost slave trading ports. In such a location, at such a time, an anti-slavery sermon could not have been preached without considerable personal risk to the preacher. Indeed, during the sermon a disturbance took place which Wesley recorded in his journal:
About the middle of the discourse, while there was on every side attention still as night, a vehement noise arose, none could tell why, and shot like lightening through the whole congregation. The terror and confusion were inexpressible. You might have imagined it was a city taken by storm. The people rushed upon each other with the utmost violence; the benches were broke in pieces, and nine-tenths of the congregation appeared to be struck with the same panic.
Wesley ascribed the confusion to "some preternatural influence. Satan fought, lest his kingdom should be delivered up." A more likely cause, perhaps, was a plot by slave-traders, anxious to disrupt a piece of abolitionist rhetoric being sounded deep in their territory. How strong this rhetoric was is impossible to tell as the 1788 sermon has not survived. Nonetheless, it is reasonable to assume that it was based in some measure on his pamphlet Thoughts Upon Slavery which was strongly argued. Wesley maintained an interest in the abolition movement until the end: on his death-bed, he was reading the Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, a text which Wesley discussed in his last letter - to William Wilberforce - written six days before he died, on 2 March 1791.
- © Brycchan Carey 2002
From: John Wesley's
Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, The Book of John (1765)
8:5 "Moses hath commanded us to stone such" - If they spoke accurately, this must have been a woman, who, having been betrothed to a husband, had been guilty of this crime before the marriage was completed; for such only Moses commanded to be stoned. He commanded indeed that other adulteresses should be put to death; but the manner of death was not specified. 22:23.
8:6 'That they might have to accuse him' - Either of usurping the office of a judge, if he condemned her, or of being an enemy to the law, if he acquitted her. Jesus stooping down, wrote with his finger on the ground - God wrote once in the Old Testament; Christ once in the New: perhaps the words which he afterward spoke, when they continued asking him. By this silent action, he,
1. fixed their wandering, hurrying thoughts, in order to awaken their consciences: and,
2. signified that he was not then come to condemn but to save the world.
8:7 "He that is without sin" - He that is not guilty: (his own conscience being the judge) either of the same sin, or of some nearly resembling it; let him - as a witness, cast the first stone at her.
8:9 'Beginning at the eldest' - Or the elders. Jesus was left alone - By all those scribes and Pharisees who proposed the question. But many others remained, to whom our Lord directed his discourse presently after.
8:10 "Hath no man condemned thee?" - Hath no judicial sentence been passed upon thee?
8:11 "Neither do I condemn thee" - Neither do I take upon me to pass any such sentence. Let this deliverance lead thee to repentance.
8:12 "He that followeth me shall in nowise walk in darkness" - In ignorance, wickedness, misery: but shall have the light of life - He that closely, humbly, steadily follows me, shall have the Divine light continually shining upon him, diffusing over his soul knowledge, holiness, joy, till he is guided by it to life everlasting.
- John Wesley, 1765