Encounters with John Wesley

Encounters with
John Wesley
Prepared by
the Office of The Ambassadors for Holiness
(Included Supplementary Resources)
Who was John Wesley?:
The Rediscovery of John Wesley (1)
John Wesley (1703-1791) was one of the most
influential figure in the Church history.
In particular, “His life nearly spanned the eighteenth
century. From the time he began ‘field preaching’ in
1739 until his death fifty-two years later he traveled
some 225,000 miles and preached more than 40,000
times, sometimes to crowds of more than 20,000. At
his death he left behind 72,000 Methodists in Great
Britain and Ireland and a fledgling Methodist
denomination in America of some 57,000 members.”
According to C. E. Vulliamy, Wesley was the
“ascendant personality” of his age, more widely known
in Britain than any other Englishman of the time.”
(Cf. Howard A. Snyder, The radical Wesley, pp. 3-5)
Who was John Wesley?:
The Rediscovery of John Wesley (2)
He was the great eighteenth-century …
Practical theologian
Revival preacher
The Society-The Band (Moravian contribution)-The Class meeting (as cells
for koinonia)
Ref: D. Michael Henderson, A Model For Making Disciples.
Religious Educational Innovator
Ref: Skevington Wood, John Wesley-The Burning Heart
Ref: Randy L. Maddox, “Reading Wesley as a theologian” (WTJ, Spring,
Ref: Alfred H. Body, John Wesley and Education; Herbert W. Byrne, John Wesley
and Learning.
Social Reformer
Wesley’s famous dictum-”the gospel of Christ knows no religion, but
social; no holiness but social holiness.”
Ref: Manfred Marquardt, John Wesley’s Social Ethics; Theodore W. Jennings, Good
News to the Poor; Theodore Runyon, ed. Sanctification and Liberation.)
The Rediscovery of John Wesley (3a)
as a great Christian apologetic theologian
In recent years, John Wesley has been rediscovered as a
great theologian.
William Hordern, a Lutheran scholar, once said, “I was
raised on the assertion that Wesley had no theology and
that he taught a religion of experience alone, but it is
now evident that Wesley was a powerful theologian.”
(William Hordern, “Recent Trends in Systematic Theology” in Canadian Journal of
Theology, vol. 3 [1961], p. 87)
In The Rediscovery of John Wesley, George C. Cell
contributed to the rediscovery of John Wesley as a
theologian. Through his study, Cell points out that
Wesley was reaffirming the main principles of the
Reformer’s theology and had overcome the decline of
Christianity which came under the influence of the
Enlightenment. (George C. Cell, The Rediscovery of John Wesley, pp. 5-9)
The Rediscovery of John Wesley (3b)
as a great Christian apologetic theologian
It is true that “Wesley did not attempt to write a systematic
theology…But perhaps this is Wesley’s strength, not his
weakness. Theologians tend to admire other theologians who
have neat and profound systems. Calvin’s theological reputation
rests especially on his accomplishment study him, and a large
literature on Calvinism exists. By contrast, Wesley has been
considered a second-rate theologian. It has sufficed to say, ‘As a
theologian, Wesley was a great revivalist!’ The literature on
Wesley is primarily historical and biographical, rather than
theological. Over 200 biographies or biographical studies on
Wesley have come from the presses…For in Wesley theology and
practice really were one. From the beginning, his theological work
grappled with practical issues. His theology was shaped by his
experience, and he most earnestly cared that his action be
ground in sound doctrine.”
(Cf. Howard A. Snyder, The radical Wesley, pp. 3-5)
How do we see William and Catherine Booth in terms of
recognizing them as great Christian thinkers in regards their
influences as the co-founders of the Salvation Army to the
churches as well as the world today?
The Purpose of Studying
Wesley’s Theology
As a Salvationist, we need to study John
Wesley’s theology with special
consideration to the following two facts:
The Army’s distinctive theological
heritage based on the Wesleyan
William and Catherine Booth’s significant
connection to Methodism and their own
theological indebtedness to the Wesleyan
1. The Army’s distinctive theological heritage
based on the Wesleyan tradition. (1)
The origin and status of the Army’s doctrine is stated in
Salvation Story: “While their [Salvation Army Articles of
Faith] origin is nowhere stated, their roots are clearly in
the Wesleyan tradition. The articles bear a striking
similarity in words and content to Methodist New
Connexion doctrine, which can be traced back to at least
1838. William Booth was an ordained minister of the
New Connexion, whose founders claimed their doctrine
to be “those of Methodism, as taught by Mr. Wesley.”
With the Movement’s birth in 1865, William Booth
adopted seven articles of belief. Three more were added
in 1870 and the last, now number ten, in 1876. Each
additional point can be traced back to the New
Connexion document…
(Salvation Story [1998], pp. 130-131.)
1. The Army’s distinctive theological heritage
based on the Wesleyan tradition. (2)
Our doctrinal statement…then, derives from the
teaching of John Wesley and the evangelical
awakening of the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries. While there was significant
correspondence between evangelicals in the
mid-nineteenth century, indicated especially in
the eight-point statement of the Evangelical
Alliance of 1846, the distinctives of Salvation
Army doctrine came from Methodism. Our
strong emphasis on regeneration and
sanctification, our conviction that the gospel is
for the whosoever and our concern for
humanity’s free will all find their roots there,”
(Salvation Story [1998], pp. 130-131)
2. William and Catherine Booth’s connection to Methodism and
their own theological indebtedness to the Wesleyan tradition
In his early teen years, William Booth (18291912) attended the local Broad Street Wesleyan
Chapel. William’s initial conversion experience
happened in these years while attending a prayer
meeting under the influence of lay preacher Isaac
William Booth reaffirmed his personal experience of
conversion at the age of fifteen, while attending the
revival meetings led by the Rev. James Caughey (c.
1810-91, an American Methodist evangelist). William
determined “’God should have all there was of him.’”
Booth was Caughey’s heir.
2. William and Catherine Booth’s connection to Methodism
and their own theological indebtedness to the Wesleyan tradition
William Booth had become an admirer of John Wesley by the age
of twenty. He said of himself: “I worshipped everything that bore
the name of Methodist. To me there was one God, and John
Wesley was his prophet. I had devoured the story of his life. No
human compositions seemed to me to be comparable to his
writings, and to the hymns of his brother Charles, and all that
was wanted, in my estimation, for the salvation of the world was
the faithful carrying into practice of the letter and the spirit of his
instructions.” (Frederick Booth-Tucker, The Life of Catherine Booth [1892],
Vol. 1. p. 74
He entered Dr. William Cook’s training college for prospective
New Connexion Methodist ministers on February 14, 1854. He
joined and was ordained in the Methodist New Connexion (1797)
in 1854-1862.
Catherine Booth (1829-90) was significantly influenced
by Phoebe Palmer (1807-74), an American Methodist lay
revivalist. Catherine’s decision to preach and the Salvation Army’s
female ministry can be traced to Phoebe Palmer.
Where to find Wesley’s
The main themes of Wesley’s theology are laced through his letters,
diaries, and journal; his sermons and commentaries on the Bible;
his books and pamphlets; and the collections of hymns that he and
his brother Charles produced. Together these reveal a rich collection
of insights about Christianity, Wesley’s personal life and activities,
and the origin and development of the early Methodist movement
and its mission.
The most important of Wesley’s theological writings are his
sermons, his Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, and the
hymn books he published (A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the
People Called Methodists [1780] – ‘a little body of experimental and
practical divinity’).
(Cf. Charles Yrigoyen, John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life, p. 24)
The book of A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, as believed and
taught by the Reverend Mr. John Wesley, from the year 1725, to
the year 1777 – The main text for understanding Wesley’s central
idea of Christian perfection.
Time Line of Events (1)
Samuel Wesley (1662-1735) marries
Susanna Annesley (1669-1742)
Samuel becomes Rector of Epworth
Birth of Charles Wesley
Birth of John Wesley (*[1]-[5])
Second rectory fire – “Is not this a brand plucked out
of the burning” (Zech. 3:2)
John enters Charterhouse
John begins studies at Christ Church,
John ordained as deacon *[8]
John elected Fellow of Lincoln College
John serving as curate at Wroot
John ordained priest
Charles founds the ‘Holy Club’; John
returns to Oxford
John declines Epworth living
Time Line of Events (2)
Death of Samuel Wesley *[6]; the Wesley’s
leave for Georgia – “the hope of saving my own soul. I
hope to learn the true sense of the gospel of Christ by
preaching it to the heathen” (Wesley)
1735 (Oct) Charles’ ordination; the brothers set sail
1735 (Dec) The storm incident *[21]
1736 (Feb) The Wesleys arrive at Savannah *[22]
1737 (Dec) John leaves Savannah *[24]
1738 (Feb) John arrives back in England; he and
Charles meet Peter Bohler
1738 (May) The Wesleys’ conversion experiences *[27]
1738 (Sept) John Wesley returns from his visit to
Germany *[10]
John Wesley preaches in the open air
at Bristol *[38]
First Methodist Society meets in Bristol
Time Line of Events (3)
1784 (Feb)
1791 (Feb)
Classes begin to be formed
First meeting of Conference *[39]
First Quarterly Meeting Kingswood School
The Christian Library begins to appear
Death of George Whitefield (b. 1714)
American Declaration of Independence
End of the war with the American
Deed of Declaration
The ordination for America
John Wesley’s revision of the Prayer Book
Death of Charles Wesley
Death of John Wesley
Primary sources
for Understanding the
Context of Wesley’s Life and
Cited from The Making of Methodism
(Epworth Press, 1995)
by Barrie Tabraham
[1] In most other societies, society presents
hardly anything but a void between an ignorant
labouring population and a need and profligate
nobility….But with us the space between the
ploughman and the peer is crammed with circle
after circle, fitted in the most admirable manner
for sitting upon each other, for connecting the
former to the latter, and for rendering the whole
prefect in cohesion, strength and beauty.
(Source: Roy Porter, English Society in the Eighteenth Century, Penguin
1982, p.64)
[2] ….persons born in the field, generally near the
brick-kilns round London … They grow up without
learning to read or write, and never hear the words
‘Religion’ or ‘Belief’, and not even the word ‘God’,
excepting the phrase ‘God damn it’. They gain their
livelihood by all kinds of work in the brick-kilns, helping
the drivers of hackney coaches, and so forth, until the
old Adam in them is aroused: then they take to stealing
and are generally hanged between the ages of 18 and
26. A short life and a merry one is their motto, which
they do not hesitate to proclaim in court.
(Source: Roy Porter, op.cit., p. 111)
[3] The small farmer is forced to be laborious
to an extreme degree; he works harder and
fares harder than the common labourer; and yet
with all his labour and with all his fatiguing
incessant exertions, seldom can he at all
improve his conditions or even with any degree
of regularity pay his rent and preserve his
present situation. He is confined to perpetual
drudgery, which is the source of profound
ignorance, the parent of obstinacy and blind
perseverance in old modes and old practices,
however, absurd and pernicious.
(Source: Roy Porter, op.cit., p. 84.)
The realm of thought
[4] The sceptic is another enemy of religion, who naturally
provokes the indignation of all divines and graver philosophers …
This begets a very natural question. What is meant by a sceptic?
And how far is it possible to push these philosophical principles of
doubt and uncertainty?
…. to have recourse to the veracity of the Supreme Being in order to
prove the veracity of our senses is surely making a very unexpected
circuit. If his veracity were at all concerned because it is not
possible that he can ever deceive. Not to mention that, if the
external world be once called into question, we shall be at a loss to
find arguments by which we may prove the existence of that Being,
or any of his attributes.
This is a topic, therefore, in which the profounder and more
philosophical sceptics will always triumph when they endeavour to
introduce a universal doubt into all subjects of human knowledge
and inquiry.
(Source: David Hume, An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Ch.
[5] An act for preserving the protestant religion, by better securing the
Church of England, as by law established; and for confirming the
toleration granted to protestant dissenters by an act, intituled, An act for
exempting their Majesties’ protestant subjects, dissenting from the
Church of England, from the penalties of certain laws, and for supplying
the defects thereof …..
And whereas it is or may be doubted whether a preacher or teacher
or any congregation of dissenting protestants, duly in all respects
qualified according to the said act, be allowed … to officiate in any
congregation in an country, other than that in which he so qualified
himself, although in a congregation or place of meeting duly certified
and registered as is required by the said act; Be it … enacted … that any
such preacher or teacher, so duly qualified … is hereby allowed to
officiate in any congregation … provided that the said congregation, or
place of meeting, hath been before such officiating duly … registered …
and such preacher or teacher shall, if required, produce a certificated of
his having so qualified himself, under the hand of the clerk of the peace
for the county or place where he so qualified himself…
(Source: E. N. Williams, The Eighteenth Century Constitution, CUP 1960, pp.
[6] My father did not die unacquainted with the faith of the gospel,
of the primitive Christians, or of our first Reformers; the same whish,
by the grace of God, I preach, and which is just as new as
Christianity. What he experienced before, I know not; but I know
that during his last illness, which continued eight months, he
enjoyed a clear sense of his acceptance with God. I heard him
express it more than once, although at that time I understood him
not. ‘The inward witness, son, the inward witness,’ said he to me,
‘that is the proof, the strongest proof, of Christianity.’ And when I
asked him (the time of his change drawing nigh), ‘Sir, are you in
much pain?’ he answered aloud, with a smile, ‘God does chasten me
with pain – yea, all my bones with strong pain; but I thank Him for
all, I bless Him for all, I love Him for all!’ I think the last words he
spoke, when I had just commended his soul to God, were, ‘Now you
have done all.’ And, with the same serene, cheerful countenance,
he fell asleep, with out on struggle or sigh or groan. I cannot
therefore doubt but the Spirit of God bore an inward witness with his
spirit that he was a child of God.
(Source: J. Wesley, Letters, Vol. 2, pp. 134-135. 3)
[8] In the year 1725, being in the twenty-third year of my age, I met with Bishop
Taylor’s Rules and Exercises of Holy Living and Dying. In reading several parts of
this book I was exceedingly affected, by that part in particular which related to
‘purity of intention’. Instantly I resolved to dedicate all my life to God, all my
thoughts and words and actions, being thoroughly convinced there was no medium,
but that every part of my life (not some only) must either be a sacrifice to God, or to
myself; that is, in effect, to the devil….
In the year 1726 I met with Kempis’s Christian Pattern. The nature and extent of
inward religion, the religion of the heart, now appeared to me in a stronger light that
ever it had done before. I saw that giving even all my life to God (supposing it
possible to do this and go no further) would profit me nothing unless I gave my
heart, yea all my heart to Him.
I saw that ‘simplicity of intention and purity of affection’, one design in all we
speak or do and one desire ruling all our tempers, are, indeed, ‘the wings of the
soul’, without which she can never ascend to the mount of God.
A year or two after, Mr. Law’s Christian Perfection and Serious Call were put into
my hands. These convinced me more than ever of the absolute impossibility of
being half a Christian, and I determined, through His grace (the absolute necessity
of which I was deeply sensible of) to be all-devoted to God: to give Him all my soul,
my body and my substance.
(Source: J. Wesley, Works (ed. Thomas Jackson). London 1872, Vol. VIII, pp. 366367.)
[10] …. I grew acquainted with the Mystic writers, whose noble
descriptions of union with God and internal religion made everything else
appear mean, flat and insipid. But, in truth, they made good works
appear so, too; yea, and faith itself, and what not? These gave me an
entire new view of religion – nothing like any I had before. But, alas! It
was nothing like that religion which Christ and His apostles lived and
taught. I had a plenary dispensation from all the commands of God.
The form ran thus: ‘Love is all; all the commands besides are only
means of love; you must choose those which you feel are means to you
and use them as long as they are so.’ Thus were all the bands burst at
once. And through I could never fully come into this, nor contentedly
omit what God enjoined, yet, I know not how, I fluctuated between
obedience and disobedience. I had no heart, no vigour, no zeal in
obeying; continually doubting whether I was right or wrong and never
out of perplexities and entanglements. Nor can I at this hour give a
distinct account how or when I came a little back toward the right way.
Only, my present state is this; all the other enemies of Christianity are
triflers – the Mystics are the most dangerous of its enemies. They stab it
in the vitals, and its most serious professors are most likely to fall by
them May I praise Him who hath snatched me out of this fire likewise,
by warning all others that it is set on fire of hell.
(Source: J. Wesley, Journal, Vol. I, p. 420: 24 January 1738. 9)
[21] At seven I went to the Germans. I had long before observed
the great seriousness of their behavior. Of their humility they had
given continued proof, by performing those servile offices for the
other passengers, which none of the English would undertake; for
which they desired, and would receive no pay, saying, ‘it was good
for their proud hearts’, and ‘their loving Saviour had done more for
them.’ And every day had given them occasion of showing a
meekness which no injury could move. If they were pushed,
struck, or thrown down, they rose again and went away; but no
complaint was found in their mouth. There was now an opportunity
of trying whether they were delivered from the spirit of fear, as well
as from that of pride, anger, and revenge. In the midst of the
psalm wherewith their service began, the sea broke over, split the
mainsail in pieces, covered the ship, and poured in between the
decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up. A terrible
screaming began among the English. The Germans calmly sung on.
I asked one of them afterwards, ‘Was you not afraid?’ He
answered, ‘I thank God, no.’ I asked, ‘But were not your women and
children afraid?’ He replied mildly, ‘No; our women and children are
not afraid to die.’
(Source: J. Wesley, Journal, 25 January 1736)
[22] Mr Oglethorpe returned from Savannah with Mr
Spangenberg, one of the pastors of the Germans. I
soon found what spirit he was of; and asked his advice
with regard to my own conduct. He said, ‘My brother, I
must first ask you one or two questions. Have you the
witness within yourself? Does the Spirit of God bear
witness with your spirit, that you are a child of God? I
was surprised, and knew not what to answer. He
observed it, and asked, ‘Do you know Jesus Christ?’ I
paused, and said, ‘I know He is the Saviour of the
world.’ ‘True,’ replied he; ‘but do you know He has
saved you?’ I answered, ‘I hope He has died to save
me.’ He only added, ‘Do you know yourself?’ I said, ‘I
do.’ But I fear that they were vain words.
(Source: J. Wesley, Journal, 7 February 1736)
[24] It is now two years and almost four months since I left my
native country, in order to teach the Georgian Indians the nature of
Christianity: but what have I learned myself in the meantime? Why
(what I the least of all suspected), that I who went to America to
convert others, was never myself converted to God. ‘I am not mad,’
though I thus speak, but ‘I speak the words of truth and soberness’
If it be said that I have faith (for many such things have I heard,
from many miserable comforters), I answer, So have the devils, - a
sort of faith; but still they are strangers to the covenant of promise.
So the apostles had even at Cana in Galilee, when Jesus first
‘manifested forth His glory’; even then they, in a sort, ‘believed on
Him’; but they had not then ‘the faith that overcometh the world.’
The faith I want is, ‘A sure trust and confidence in God, that,
through the merits of Christ, my sins are forgiven, and I reconciled
to the favour of God’ …
‘I. I am not sure of this.’ Wesley’s own footnote, added later.
‘2. The faith of a son.’ – Ditto.
(Source: J. Wesley, Journal, 29 February 1738)
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 thought
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.
I began to pray with all my might for those who had in a more especial manner
despitefully used me and persecuted me. I then testified openly to all there, what I
now first felt in my heart. But it was not long before the enemy suggested, ‘This
cannot be faith; for where is the joy?’ Then was I taught, that peace and victory over
sin are essential to faith in the Captain of our salvation; but that, as to the transports
of joy that usually attended the beginning of it, especially in those who have mourned
deeply, God sometimes giveth, sometimes withholdeth them, according to the
counsels of His own will.
After my return home, I was much buffeted with temptations; but cried out, and they
fled away. They returned again and again. I as often lifted up my eyes, and He ‘sent
me help from His holy place’. And herein I found the difference between this and my
former state chiefly consisted. I was striving, yea, fighting with all my might under
the law, as well as under grace. But then I was sometimes, if not often, conquered;
now I was always conqueror.
(Source: J. Wesley, Journal, Wednesday 24 May 1738)
[38] In the evening I reached Bristol, and met Mr. Whitefield
there. I could scarce reconcile myself at first to this strange way of
preaching in the fields, of which he set me an example on Sunday;
having been all my life (till very lately) so tenacious of every point
relating to decency and order, that I should have thought the saving
of souls almost a sin, if it had not been done in a church.
Sun. April I. - In the evening (Mr Whitefield being gone) I begun
expounding our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount (one pretty remarkable
precedent of field-preaching, though I suppose there were churches
at that time also), to a little society which was accustomed to meet
once or twice a week in Nicholas Street.
Mon. 2 – At four in the afternoon, I submitted to be more vile,
and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation,
speaking from a little eminence in a ground adjoining to the city, to
about three thousand people….
(Source: J. Wesley, Journal, 31 March – 2 April 1739)
Q.3. What are the Rules of an Assistant?
A.1. Be diligent. Never be unemployed a moment, never be
employed, never while away time; spend no
more time at any place than is strictly necessary.
2. Be serious. Let your motto be, ‘holiness unto the Lord’.
Avoid all lightness as you would avoid hell-fire, and
laughing as you would cursing and swearing
3. Touch no woman. Be as loving as you will but hold
your hands off’em. Custom is nothing to us.
4. Believe evil of no one. If you see I done, well. Else take
heed how you credit it. Put the best construction on
every thing. You know the judge is always supposed to
be on the prisoner’s side.
5. Speak evil of no one, else your word especially would
eat as doth as canker. Keep your thoughts within your
own breast till you come to the person concerned.
6. Tell everyone what you think wrong in him and that
plainly and as soon as may be; else it will fester in your
heart. Make all haste, therefore, to cast the fire out of
your bosom.
Do nothing ‘as a gentleman’. You have no more to do
with this character than with that of a dancing-master.
You are the servant of all; therefore,
8. Be ashamed of nothing but sin; not of fetching wood
or drawing water, if time permits; not of cleaning your
own shoes or your neighbour’s.
9. Take no money of any one. If they give you food
you are hungry or clothes when you need them, it is
good. But not silver or gold. Let there be no
pretence to
say we grow rich by the gospel.
10. Contract no debt without my knowledge.
11. Be punctual: do everything exactly at the time. And, in
general, do not mend our rules but keep them, not for
wrath but for conscience’ sake.
12. Act in all things not according to your own will but as a
son in the gospel. As such, it is your part to employ
your time in the manner which we direct: partly in
visiting the flock from house to house (the sick in
particular); partly, in such a course of reading, meditation and prayer as we advise from time to time. Above
all, if you labour with us in the Lord’s vineyard, it is
needful you should do that part of the work which we
direct, at those times and places which we judge most
for his glory.
(Source: Minutes of First Annual Conference, Friday 29
June 1744)
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