The Wesley Family
The Old Rectory
Video Footage of the Old Rectory
John, ‘Jacky’ (1703 - 1791) born at Epworth on 17th June 1703
The fifteenth child of Samuel and Susanna, John Wesley is perhaps the best known member of the Wesley family, and, with his younger brother Charles, was the founder of the Methodist movement. When the Epworth rectory caught fire in 1709 John was dramatically rescued from an upper floor window, 'a brand plucked from the burning' as his mother described him. He believed the experience was an indication that he had been providentially set apart for significant work. Educated at Charterhouse School and Oxford University, John became leader of the Oxford group his brother Charles had founded called 'The Holy Club' – derisively dubbed 'Methodists' by fellow students because of their methodical approach to study and devotion.
John was ordained as an Anglican clergyman and in 1735 sailed to Georgia to work among the American Indians. The venture did not succeed and on his return early in 1738 he wrote 'I went to America to convert the Indians; but oh, who shall convert me?' The Moravians he met during his voyage made a great impression on him, and back in London he met another, Peter Böhler, who continued that influence.
On 24th May 1738 (a day now known as 'Wesley Day') John felt his heart 'strangely warmed' at a meeting in Aldersgate Street, an experience which he said 'kindled a fire which I trust shall never be extinguished'. Nor was it! Wesley began a remarkable itinerant evangelistic ministry travelling some 250,000 miles (mostly on horseback) all over Britain and Ireland and preaching an estimated 40,000 sermons.
It was in 1739 through the influence of his friend George Whitefield that he first preached in the open air, and this became the hallmark of his ministry. Anglican churches were increasingly reluctant to allow him into their pulpits, but he saw the world as his parish and preached wherever people would gather to hear him. In these early days of the Industrial Revolution thousands of people from the working classes were converted to the Christian faith. Wesley formed 'societies' of those who responded to his preaching, dividing them into 'bands' and later 'classes' for fellowship and mutual encouragement.
He appointed lay people (including – with his mother's encouragement - women) to lead these societies and even to preach. More controversially still, believing that he was 'a scriptural episcopos [bishop] as much as any man in England', he himself ordained Thomas Coke before sending him to North America where he began the Methodist movement on that continent.
At his base in London, John established the City Road Chapel (now known as Wesley's Chapel) at a disused canon foundry and built a house for himself next door. At the age of forty-eight he married a widow, Mary Vazeille, but it was a difficult marriage not helped by his long absences.
John was not only a great preacher but also a writer, his published Forty-four Sermons and his Notes on the New Testament eventually becoming the doctrinal standard for the Methodist Church. He kept a Journal throughout his ministry and wrote many letters, tracts and translations. He was active in social concerns such as prison reform, opposition to slavery, care for the poor, the education of the young and herbal medicine.
John Wesley died on 2nd March 1791 in his eighty-eighth year with his friends around him, his last words being 'The best of all is, God is with us', and was buried in a small graveyard behind the City Road Chapel. He and his brother Charles are commemorated by a plaque in Westminster Abbey.