FOX'S BOOK OF MARTYRS
An Account of the Life of John Wesley
John Wesley was born on the seventeenth of June, 1703, in
Epworth rectory, England, the fifteenth of nineteen children of
Charles and Suzanna Wesley. The father of Wesley was a preacher,
and Wesley's mother was a remarkable woman in wisdom and
intelligence. She was a woman of deep piety and brought her
little ones into close contact with the Bible stories, telling
them from the tiles about the nursery fireplace. She also used to
dress the children in their best on the days when they were to
have the privilege of learning their alphabet as an introduction
to the reading of the Holy Scriptures.
Young Wesley was a gay and manly youth, fond of games and
particularly of dancing. At Oxford he was a leader, and during
the latter part of his course there, was one of the founders of
the "Holy Club," an organization of serious-minded students. His
religious nature deepened through study and experience, but it
was not until several years after he left the university and came
under the influence of Luther's writings that he felt that he had
entered into the full riches of the Gospel.
He and his brother Charles were sent by the Society for the
Propagation of the Gospel to Georgia, where both of them
developed their powers as preachers.
Upon their passage they fell into the company of several
Moravian brethren, members of the association recently renewed by
the labors of Count Zinzendorf. It was noted by John Wesley in
his diary that, in a great tempest, when the English people on
board lost all self-possession, these Germans impressed him by
their composure and entire resignation to God. He also marked
their humility under shameful treatment.
It was on his return to England that he entered into those
deeper experiences and developed those marvelous powers as a
popular preacher which made him a national leader. He was
associated at this time also with George Whitefield, the
tradition of whose marvelous eloquence has never died.
What he accomplished borders upon the incredible. Upon
entering his eighty-fifth year he thanked God that he was still
almost as vigorous as ever. He ascribed it, under God, to the
fact that he had always slept soundly, had risen for sixty years
at four o'clock in the morning, and for fifty years had preached
every morning at five. Seldom in all his life did he feel any
pain, care, or anxiety. He preached twice each day, and often
thrice or four times. It has been estimated that he traveled
every year forty-five hundred English miles, mostly upon
The successes won by Methodist preaching had to be gained
through a long series of years, and amid the most bitter
persecutions. In nearly every part of England it was met at the
first by the mob with stonings and peltings, with attempts at
wounding and slaying. Only at times was there any interference on
the part of the civil power. The two Wesleys faced all these
dangers with amazing courage, and with a calmness equally
astonishing. What was more irritating was the heaping up of
slander and abuse by the writers of the day. These books are now
Wesley had been in his youth a high churchman and was always
deeply devoted to the Established Communion. When he found it
necessary to ordain preachers, the separation of his followers
from the established body became inevitable. The name "Methodist"
soon attached to them, because of the particular organizing power
of their leader and the ingenious methods that he applied.
The Wesley fellowship, which after his death grew into the
great Methodist Church, was characterized by an almost military
perfection of organizaton.
The entire management of his ever-growing denomination
rested upon Wesley himself. The annual conference, established in
1744, acquired a governing power only after the death of Wesley.
Charles Wesley rendered the society a service incalculably great
by his hymns. They introduced a new era in the hymnology of the
English Church. John Wesley apportioned his days to his work in
leading the Church, to studying (for he was an incessant reader),
to traveling, and to preaching.
Wesley was untiring in his efforts to disseminate useful
knowledge throughout his denomination. He planned for the mental
culture of his traveling preachers and local exhorters, and for
schools of instruction for the future teachers of the Church. He
himself prepared books for popular use upon universal history,
church history, and natural history. In this Wesley was an
apostle of the modern union of mental culture with Christian
living. He published also the best matured of his sermons and
various theological works. These, both by their depth and their
penetration of thought, and by their purity and precision of
style, excite our admiration.
John Wesley was of but ordinary stature, and yet of noble
presence. His features were very handsome even in old age. He had
an open brow, an eagle nose, a clear eye, and a fresh complexion.
His manners were fine, and in choice company with Christian
people he enjoyed relaxation. Persistent, laborious love for
men's souls, steadfastness, and tranquillity of spirit were his
most prominent traits of character. Even in doctrinal
controversies he exhibited the greatest calmness. He was kind and
very liberal. His industry has been named already. In the last
fifty-two years of his life, it is estimated that he preached
more than forty thousand sermons.
Wesley brought sinners to repentance throughout three
kingdoms and over two hemispheres. He was the bishop of such a
diocese as neither the Eastern nor the Western Church ever
witnessed before. What is there in the circle of Christian
effort--foreign missions, home missions, Christian tracts and
literature, field preaching, circuit preaching, Bible readings,
or aught else--which was not attempted by John Wesley, which was
not grasped by his mighty mind through the aid of his Divine
To him it was granted to arouse the English Church, when it
had lost sight of Christ the Redeemer to a renewed Christian
life. By preaching the justifying and renewing of the soul
through belief upon Christ, he lifted many thousands of the
humbler classes of the English people from their exceeding
ignorance and evil habits, and made them earnest, faithful
Christians. His untiring effort made itself felt not in England
alone, but in America and in continental Europe. Not only the
germs of almost all the existing zeal in England on behalf of
Christian truth and life are due to Methodism, but the activity
stirred up in other portions of Protestant Europe we must trace
indirectly, at least, to Wesley.
He died in 1791 after a long life of tireless labor and
unselfish service. His fervent spirit and hearty brotherhood
still survives in the body that cherishes his name.