John Wesley, 1703 - 1791

portrait of John Wesley
Oil on canvas by George Romney (1789)
John Wesley signature
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Born: 28 June [O.S. 17 June] 1703, Epworth, Lincolnshire, England
Died: 2 March 1791, London, England, UK

Wesley's father Samuel was the rector at Epworth, a position of more substance than the word means today. The parish rectory burned in 1709, his rescue was seen as a sign and he prepared for the ministry. Taught first by his mother, he attended London's Charterhouse School for six years and then went to Christ Church, Oxford. There he was one of a group that maintained a "methodical" schedule of religious study and activity, they were called the Holy Club. He was ordained a deacon in 1725 and a priest the next year. Samuel died in 1735, the next year John and his brother Charles set sail as missionaries to the Georgia colony. He was impressed by the behavior of the Moravians on board the ship, when a storm snapped the mast of their ship the English panicked while the Moravians prayed and sang hymns. In Georgia he broke off a relationship with a woman who had sailed on the same ship, she accused him of breaking his commitment to marry her, she married another man, Wesley refused to give her communion, and the couple sued; Wesley had to actually escape the colony.

Back at London he began to worship and study with Moravians there, from them he learned of Martin Luther's work, notably the concept of justification by faith based on the book of Romans. Many of the "Methodists" began to preach outdoors, often to large and receptive crowds, some without ordination and all without license. They were attacked (sometimes physically) as being a threat to social institutions. The group began to ordain ministers outside the Church of England, Wesley having decided in 1746 that the apostolic succession was a "fable". His Holy Club had regularly visited prisoners, he later became an advocate of prison reform and was a vocal abolitionist. Although he never left the Anglican church, he had provided the theology and the organization for Methodism. He kept a journal, wrote several books and many articles, and a large number of his sermons were preserved despite his statement that he burned all of them every seven years because he felt he could do better. He preached up to a week before his death, which apparently was simply from old age.

Biography from Wikipedia and NNDB

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