Ten Wesley Cameos

This year, 2003, marks the tercentenary of the birth of John Wesley. To mark this special occasion, Dr Herbert McGonigle, Chairman of the Wesley Fellowship, has written ten brief cameos dealing with John and Charles Wesley and some of the events of the 18th century Methodist Revival in Britain.

1. Epworth - There’s No Place Like Home

John Wesley was born in his Epworth rectory home, Lincolnshire, on June 17th (28th by the modern calendar) 1703. The fifteenth of seventeen (or eighteen) children, ten of whom survived infancy, he was brought up in a home of love, learning and education. His mother, Susannah Wesley, began her children’s education on their fifth birthdays and they were expected to learn the alphabet perfectly on the first day! Her methods clearly worked for the three sons all left their mother’s school prepared to continue their classical studies at two of England’s most prestigious public schools; Samuel and Charles (the hymn-writer) at Westminster School and John at Charterhouse School. John’s journey took him from Charterhouse to Christ Church, Oxford, where he was ordained a clergyman of the Church of England and elected Fellow of Lincoln College. He was an Oxford tutor for ten years, after which he and his brother Charles ministered to both the colonists and the native Indians in Georgia in America.

Back home in England both John and Charles experienced evangelical conversions over the Pentecost weekend of 1738. During the next six months they preached the gospel of the new birth almost daily in Anglican churches in the London area. Their insistence on the need of personal conversion and that converts could know their sins forgiven by the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, resulted in the churches being closed to them. It was then, with the support and example of another fervent Anglican preacher, George Whitefield, that their open-air preaching began. For fifty-one and a half years, John Wesley rode the highways and byways of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, preaching the gospel on more than 45,00 occasions! It has been estimated that he travelled, mostly on horseback, more than one third of a million miles, travelling and preaching, in all weathers. When he died in 1791 he left behind him more than 100,000 ‘Methodist’ converts in his Societies in Britain and America.

Well, that’s John Wesley’s life and ministry summarised in 300 words! In these cameos we will be looking at events and happenings of that amazing ministry, beginning now with his hometown, Epworth. Like most of us, John Wesley loved the place where he was born and across his fifty years of itinerant ministry, he managed to get back to Epworth almost every year and nearly always on his birthday! In his final years he reminisced about what he called ‘the little country town which I still love beyond most places in the world.’ On his 82nd birthday he wrote in his famous Journal, at Epworth. ‘I find myself just as strong to labour as I was forty years ago. I do not impute this to second causes but to the Sovereign Lord of all.’ Four years later he wrote in Epworth. ‘What cause have I to praise God, as for a thousand spiritual blessings, as for bodily blessings also.’ And he was there again in 1790, spending his last birthday, as he had spent his first, in his beloved Epworth. Eighty-seven years earlier he had been born in the rectory, and that home had given him both a classical education and the foundations of his Christian faith. Although he did not know it then the world was to be his parish. The Psalmist spoke of Zion (Jerusalem) as being remembered because ‘this and that man was born in her’ (Ps.87). And this Lincolnshire town of Epworth has become immortalised in Church History as the home of the Wesleys, and especially because John and his brother Charles, arguably England’s greatest evangelist and her greatest hymn-writer, were both born there!


2. The Gospel of the Warmed Heart:

The Rev. John Wesley (1703-91) began preaching in 1725, the year of his ordination and he continued to be a preacher for sixty-six years. In May 1738 something very significant happened in his life that both changed him dramatically and the direction of his life. He had returned to England after spending two frustrating years as a missionary to the American Indians. On the homeward journey he had written a kind of spiritual memorandum in which he spoke of his disappointments and spiritual depression. He had gone to Georgia to convert the heathen, but, he asked, ‘who will convert me’? He was a dedicated, orthodox, Bible-believing churchman, yet something was missing in his life. There was no joy, no sense of the presence of God, no inner witness of the Spirit that his own sins were forgiven. In London he met a young Moravian missionary, Peter Bohler, who witnessed to him, and his brother Charles, about personal saving faith. Bohler wisely advised Wesley to continue preaching according to the conviction and light that God had already given him, assuring him that God would soon answer his fears and doubts.

And Bohler was right! On Wednesday evening, May 24th 1738, John Wesley sat in a gathering of dedicated Christian people meeting in Aldersgate Street in London. The leader read from Martin Luther’s ‘Preface’ to his commentary on Romans. As he read Luther’s words about how the Holy Spirit creates saving faith in the heart, Wesley recorded. ‘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.’ A spiritual heart-warming indeed! In his Journal, Wesley wrote the words my, mine and me in italics to emphasise how personal that great experience was. Ever since his ordination Wesley had sought this personal assurance but it alluded him for thirteen years. Now he knew for sure that his sins were forgiven, that he was reconciled to God and that the Spirit witnessed with his spirit that he had eternal life.

That heart-warming was the beginning of his life’s work as an evangelist. In the next half-century, under his itinerant ministry, thousands of people would find the same experience of spiritual assurance and peace with God. Three days prior to John’s life-changing experience, on Pentecost Sunday, May 21st 1738, his brother Charles Wesley had found the same heart-warming transformation by the Spirit. Exactly a year later Charles wrote a hymn to express praise to God for what had happened to his brother and himself on those memorable days. He entitled it, ‘A Hymn for the Anniversary Day of One’s Conversion,’ and it has been a favourite with Christian people ever since.

O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise
The glories of my God and King
The triumphs of his grace.


3. The Devil Does Not Love Field-Preaching!

Most of us have seen, perhaps even taken part in, open-air preaching at some time. Such ministry is most frequently seen in Britain in the summer in beach missions and other holiday gatherings. In 18th century England preaching in the open air was unknown until George Whitefield and John and Charles Wesley initiated it. John Wesley began this ministry in Bristol in 1739 and he kept it up for more than fifty years. If Wednesday May 24th 1738 marks the date of his spiritual heart-warming, then Monday 2nd April 1739 marks the beginning of what he always called ‘field preaching.’ At four in the afternoon that day he stood up in a brickyard in Bristol and preached to about three thousand people from the words of Luke 4:18, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach…’ What a prophetic text it was! Fifty one and a half years later, under an ash tree in Winchelsea in Sussex, at the age of 87, John Wesley preached his last open-air sermon, from Mk 1:15, ‘Repent and believe the gospel.’ In between the brickyard and the ash tree lay half a century of ‘field preaching,’ a ministry unequalled by any other Christian preacher. It is estimated that eighty-five percent of the forty-five thousand sermons preached by John Wesley were preached out of doors. In all places, in all weathers, to crowds large and small, he heralded the Good News across the four kingdoms of Great Britain for half a century. He preached in fields, in barns, on hillsides, at market crosses, in town and city streets and at pit heads from Durham to Cornwall. All over the country you can still find scores of local markers with the information, ‘John Wesley preached here.’

Wesley began this field-preaching, and continued it, because he proved it was the most effective way to reach the people with the gospel. He believed himself called of God to this demanding ministry and he gave himself to it with undivided zeal and dedication. On almost any day during these fifty years, Wesley would travel twenty or thirty miles on horseback, in all weathers, and preach at least twice out of doors. In one of his Journal entries for June 1759, he wrote of why he practised field preaching. ‘I preached abroad to twice the people we should have had at the house (i.e. the preaching house). What marvel the devil does not love field-preaching! Neither do I. I love a commodious room, a soft cushion, a handsome pulpit. But where is my zeal if I do not trample all these underfoot in order to save one more soul?’ Field-preaching worked! On this occasion twice as many heard the gospel as would have done if Wesley had preached indoors. As Paul said of his ministry, ‘I have become all things to all men that I might by all means save some’ (1 Cor.9:22). As twenty-first century Christians, we, too, must seek to reach our generation with the gospel ‘by all means.’


4. Two Silver Spoons:

Probably the most misquoted text in the whole Bible is 1 Tim. 6:10, which is often repeated as, ‘Money is the root of all evil’. The full text is, ‘The love of money is the root of all (i.e. all kinds) evil.’ In that respect John Wesley was clearly saved by grace from any love of money. In the half-century of his evangelistic ministry, he earned thousands of pounds from his publishing enterprises. With his brother Charles, he published no fewer than four hundred titles, including letters, journals, sermons, theological treatises, Christian apologetics, biblical commentaries, and much, much else. And he quite literally gave all the money away to poor people and good causes! Early in the revival he wrote: ‘If I leave behind me ten pounds, above my debts and my books, you and all mankind bear witness against me that I lived and died a thief and a robber.’ At his death in 1791, his executors found that his total treasury amounted to ten guineas (£10.5 pounds)! And his will directed that four of these guineas should pay four unemployed men to carry his coffin and the remainder to be distributed among his poorest preachers.

In one of his sermons he outlined the stewardship of money that he practised all his life. At Oxford he received thirty pounds a year, lived on twenty-eight pounds and gave away two pounds. The next year he received sixty pounds, still lived on twenty-eight and had thirty-two to give away. Years later when he received one hundred and twenty pounds, he continued to live on twenty eight pounds and was able to give ninety-two pounds to the poor! He once confided in his sister Martha: ‘Money never stays with me. It would burn me if it did. I throw it out of my hands as soon as possible, lest it should find a way into my heart.' He gave generously to the poor wherever he met them and was so kind to beggars that his brother Charles once remarked, ‘My brother was born for the benefit of knaves.’

In 1776 the Commissioners for Excise were doing an inventory of all the silver plate held privately in England. They were sure that John Wesley, who had thousands of converts all over the country, must have become rich through all these supporters. They wrote and asked him to declare what quantity of silver plate he owned. His reply was as succinct as it was simple. ‘I have two silver spoons at London, and two at Bristol. This is all the plate which I have at present, and I shall not buy any more while so many around me want bread.’ John Wesley really believed and practised the counsel of Jesus. ‘A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions’ (Lk.12:15). At the end of his long and devoted life, John Wesley left behind him just ten guineas – and one hundred thousand converts!


5. John Wesley and the Means of Grace:

John Wesley was no ‘hit and run’ evangelist. In his half-century of itinerant preaching in Britain, he took the most meticulous care in the ‘follow up’ work. All those who professed saving faith were taught and encouraged to share in the means of grace daily, weekly and on other occasions. He wrote: ‘I determine, by the grace of God, not to strike one stroke in any place where I cannot follow the blow.’ He was convinced that when believers are brought to saving faith in Jesus Christ, this is just the beginning of their pilgrimage. And there were two main sources of the means of grace that John Wesley strongly impressed on all his followers. The first was the Sunday service in the local parish church. John Wesley was born into the Church of England and died an ordained minister in that Church. In his lifetime he used all his influence to ensure that his ‘Methodist’ people were regular communicants in their parish churches. He set a personal example of this kind of devotion. When he was charged with attempting to set up a new denomination, he flatly denied it. ‘I dare not renounce communion with the Church of England. As a Minister, I teach her doctrines; I use her offices; I conform to her rubrics.’

Wesley was a lifelong admirer of the Book of Common Prayer, the Liturgy and the Homilies of the Church of England. He wanted all his people to be regular in their Church attendance, that they might hear and profit from the Liturgy with its use of Scriptures, confession, prayers and collects. All of these are means of grace by which the people of God are built up in their holy faith. Even where the minister was ‘unawakened’ and often hostile to the revival, Wesley still urged his people to attend the services. He assured them that they would benefit spiritually from hearing the Liturgy read and, especially, partaking in Holy Communion. To that end he instructed his preachers and leaders to make sure that ‘Methodist’ meeting times did not clash with Church of England services.

As well as advocating regular attendance at the parish church, John Wesley provided additional means of grace for his people. In this way the Methodist ‘Class Meeting’ was begun. It was made up of eleven people and a leader who met weekly for Bible teaching, testimony, worship and collecting money for the poor. The ‘Band Meeting’ was made up of five or six people who were more spiritually advanced and their weekly meeting gave a large place to confession of personal sin and failure and very open and frank discussion. The ‘Love Feast’ was an occasional meeting for singing, testimony and fellowship together in sharing a simple meal of bread and water. There were also Quarterly Meetings, Watch night Services and Covenant Services. All these Methodist institutions were for the purpose of helping people to ‘grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 3:18). Just as surely as John Wesley believed in preaching the gospel to bring sinners to saving faith in Christ, he believed just as passionately in encouraging believers to partake of the means of grace. The Christian life, he taught, is not just the experience of a moment of conversion; it is also the spiritual pilgrimage of a lifetime.


6. The Prayer of Faith:

John Wesley made twenty-one preaching visits to Ireland between 1747 and 1789. From the first visit, he was warmly welcomed in the country and the response to his gospel preaching and evangelism was very encouraging. When some of his London friends chided him and his brother Charles for crossing the Irish Sea so often, his reply was, ‘Have patience and Ireland will repay you.’ And Wesley was right, for not only were there thousands of people in the Irish Methodist Societies at Wesley’s death, but, in addition, scores of Irish converts joined the ranks of Wesley’s travelling preachers. Among the Irish converts was a young woman, Henrietta Jones, a noted socialite. In 1758 she married Edward Gayer, Clerk of the Irish House of Lords and her new home was the beautiful Gayer mansion house at Derryaghy, a few miles from Lisburn in Co Antrim. Mrs Gayer’s part in one of the crises in John Wesley’s life is a story worth telling.

Some years after her marriage, Mrs Gayer became very concerned about personal salvation. In her spiritual search she met a regimental surgeon who was a Methodist and he directed her to ‘the old, old story of Jesus and his love.’ Having found saving faith and assurance, Mrs Gayer joined the local Methodist Society and was a loyal and devoted member until her death. She met John Wesley in 1773 and invited him to her home to meet her husband and from then on he was a regular visitor.

On his fifteenth visit to Ireland in June 1775, Wesley was taken seriously ill at Tanderagee. He had been in a high fever for some time, but now, in his own words, ‘my understanding was quite confused and my strength entirely gone.’ In that condition he was taken to the Gayer home where Mrs Gayer, and her daughter, now also a Methodist convert, nursed their patient. Wesley was seventy-two years old and the prognosis was not good. For three days he was, as he later recorded, ‘more dead than alive.’ Word spread quickly that Methodism’s Founder was dying and indeed one English newspaper, misinterpreting the news from Lisburn, announced his death. Charles Wesley, hearing the news of his brother’s serious illness in London, wrote of how the English Methodists were ‘swallowed up in sorrow.’ Friends gathered to Derryaghy from far and near to pray that God would spare His servant for more years of travel and preaching. During a season of prayer, one of the preachers felt led to pray that as God had spared the life of King Hezekiah (Isaiah 38:1-6), He would likewise spare the life of John Wesley. This request for fifteen years to be added to Wesley’s life stirred the faith of the praying group and they cried to the Lord for its fulfilment. As they fervently prayed, suddenly Mrs Gayer rose from her knees and announced, ‘The prayer is granted!’ Wesley’s health began to improve rapidly and less than a week later he was back on his travels. The crises had occurred in late June 1775 and John Wesley lived until March 1791, a period of fifteen years and eight months. The prayer of faith prayed by Mrs Gayer and the other Methodists, asking for fifteen years to be added to John Wesley’s life, had been wonderfully answered.


7. My Sons in the Gospel:

In the 18th century Evangelical Revival, the names of John Wesley, George Whitefield and Charles Wesley were prominent. These preachers travelled across the country, preaching mostly out-of-doors and attracted large crowds of listeners. In the last two centuries, many biographers, historians and theologians have reminded us of the importance of these preachers. In the days of the Revival, England’s parish clergy mostly ignored George Whitefield and the Wesley brothers but there were some notable exceptions. Ministers in the Church of England like George Walker in Truro, David Simpson in Macclesfield, John Fletcher in Madeley, William Grimshaw in Haworth, Henry Crook in Leeds and John Berridge in Everton (Notts.), warmly welcomed the ‘Methodist’ evangelists into their pulpits. Their support for the revival meant that often they were branded ‘Methodists’ themselves. In addition, however, to these clerical supporters, John Wesley had other helpers, some three hundred of them. These were his itinerant preachers, devoted laymen who served as Wesley’s lieutenants in circuits all over the British Isles. Many of them were converts of the Wesleys’ preaching and John Wesley selected them as full-time itinerants because of their devotion, their passion for evangelism and their willingness to serve under Wesley’s directions. He called these good men his ‘sons in the gospel’ and they served in God’s work with great dedication and often at great sacrifice. Many of them had to leave home for months on end as they were appointed to circuits all over the country and there were no resources for married preachers to take their wives and children with them. They were given a horse and saddlebags and little else.

One of the most remarkable of these itinerant preachers was John Nelson, a stonemason from Birstall in Yorkshire. Having gone to London in search of work he was attracted one day to a large gathering of people. Going nearer he discovered that it was a religious meeting and as he listened to John Wesley, without knowing who he was, he came under deep conviction of sin. Nelson felt that Wesley’s whole sermon was directed at him and he recorded, ‘This man can tell the secrets of my heart, he hath not left me there, for he hath showed me the remedy, even the blood of Jesus.’ Following his conversion, Nelson felt called of God to begin to witness to his friends about their salvation. He returned to Birstall and many of his neighbours were converted through his ministry. The stonemason had become a Kingdom builder! He invited John Wesley to Yorkshire who was amazed when he saw the effects of Nelson’s preaching. ‘The whole town wore a new face. Such a change did God work by the artless testimony of one plain man.’ Nelson joined the ranks of Wesley’s ‘sons in the gospel’ and gave the rest of his life to itinerant evangelism. It was Nelson who made contact with Digory and Elizabeth Isbell in Trewint, Cornwall, and that contact led to their conversion. He was stationed in Ireland and in every circuit his ministry resulted in conversions. John Nelson was a shining example of how the Lord can use lay ministry to His glory as well as that of the ordained clergy.


8. On His Father’s Tombstone

John Wesley made his first preaching visit to his home town, Epworth in Lincolnshire, in June 1742. He had not been there for seven years, since the time of his father’s funeral. Because he was an ordained minister in the Church of England and because his father had been Rector in Epworth for forty years, he asked the Curate if he might assist him on the Sunday morning, either in reading prayers or preaching. But the Curate, knowing of Wesley’s itinerant ministry, had no intention of having a ‘rebel’ preacher in his pulpit. Following the service, Wesley’s travelling assistant, John Taylor, stood at the church gate and announced: ‘Mr Wesley, not being permitted to preach in the church, designs to preach here at six o’clock.’ The news spread like wildfire! ‘Old parson Wesley’s son be back and he be preaching in the churchyard!’ The whole area was packed with people as the be-gowned Oxford don and open-air revivalist took his stand on his father’s flat tombstone. While the church authorities could forbid John Wesley from preaching in the pulpit or the graveyard, they could not prevent his standing on his father’s grave, for it was Wesley family property.

What a scene it must have been! Merchant and miller, farmer and fisherman, soldier and smithy, weaver and washerwoman – all were there in that large, gaping crowd. How many of them remembered the preacher as a small, pensive child taking his place every Sunday in the family pew? Were there some among them who remembered the rectory fire thirty-three years before – perhaps even those two brave, unknown men, who rescued England’s future evangelist from the flames? Now John Wesley stood on his father’s tomb on that Sunday, June 6th, 1742, and as the evening shadows began to fall across the 13th century St Andrew’s Church, he proclaimed his text. ‘The kingdom of God is… righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost’ (Rom. 14:17).

John Wesley stayed for a week on that first visit home to Epworth. Every morning he preached at the town cross and every evening from his father’s tomb. He visited many homes in the parish where he had been his father’s curate and scores of men and women came to faith in Christ as a result of that visit, and the many more visits he made to Epworth in the coming years. Later he reflected on his earlier curacy and his present itinerant ministry, and wrote. ‘I am well assured that I did more good to my parishioners in Lincolnshire by preaching three days on my father's tomb than I did by preaching three years in his pulpit.’ John Wesley certainly didn’t despise parish ministry but he had learned that preaching out-of-doors reached many people who did not attend church services.

And so, in this John Wesley tercentenary year, all Christians, and especially those of us who live in Britain, have reason to thank God for His servant, John Wesley. From Epworth in Lincolnshire, there arose a river of grace in 18th century England that, like Ezekiel’s, flowed out to bless and heal the land. Or, to change the metaphor, at Epworth was the first kindling of that holy conflagration that would soon, in the words of Charles Wesley, ‘Set the kingdoms on a blaze.’


9. Charles Wesley: The First Methodist:

While this tercentenary year of John Wesley’s birth has many events to celebrate that occasion, the great contribution of his brother Charles to the Church must not be forgotten. There is probably not another example in the whole of Church History of two brothers working together so closely in the service of the Lord as that of John and Charles Wesley. Scattered throughout John’s writings there are many friendly references to ‘my brother and I,’ as John recognised the consecrated talents and gifts of his younger brother. Charles (1707-1788), also a product of that amazing Epworth rectory home, studied at Westminster School and then, like John, at Christ Church, Oxford. He was the founder of the group derisively named the ‘Holy Club’ and later ‘Methodists,’ so, strictly speaking, Charles Wesley was the founder of Methodism, not John. He accompanied John to Georgia in America and later, on Pentecost Sunday, May 21st 1738, found the ‘warmed-heart’ experience three days before John did.

Christians everywhere know of Charles Wesley as a hymn-writer and his output was immense. Beginning in the week of his evangelical conversion, he wrote hymns for the next fifty years; a total of 8500. That makes him the most prolific of all the English poets; in terms of the number of lines, he wrote more than Shakespeare or Milton or Browning, Keats or Tennyson. The lasting popularity of his hymns has often eclipsed his great ministry as an itinerant preacher. In the sixteen years from 1739 to around 1755, he travelled as many miles on horseback, faced as many mobs, preached as many sermons and witnessed as many conversions as his brother John did. He was the first Methodist preacher in Cornwall and he had a most fruitful ministry in his visits to Ireland. In terms of his heritage in this twenty-first century, in many ways it is more alive today than that of his brother John. On any given Sunday this year, while a few dedicated people here and there will read one of John’s sermon, or something else he wrote, literally thousands of Christians around the world will sing Charles’ hymns!

These hymns have become an integral part of Christian worship and praise wherever the English language is spoken, and indeed in many translations as well, for two centuries. We can hardly imagine Christmas praise without, ‘Hark, the herald angels sing,’ or, ‘Come, thou long-expected Jesus;’ or Good Friday without, ‘O Love divine, what hast Thou done?’ or, ‘All ye that pass by.’ Easter Sunday celebration needs, ‘Christ the Lord is risen today,’ just as Ascension Day thanksgiving invariably employs, ‘Hail the day that sees him rise.’ When it comes to the doctrine of Christ’s Second Coming how well Charles expressed it with his, ‘Lo, He comes, with clouds descending.’ In terms of worship and praise all the year round, Charles’ ‘And can it be?’, ‘O for a thousand tongues,’ and ‘Jesus, lover of my soul,’ are among the most popular hymns in the language. And the list of truly great hymns from the pen of Charles Wesley goes on and on. He was not only the ‘sweet singer of Methodism;’ he was the Orpheus of the whole Church. All of us have our favourites from Charles’ amazing output, but believers everywhere can unite to sing with him those moving words that express Christian aspiration so perfectly.

O Thou who camest from above
The pure, celestial fire to impart
Kindle a flame of sacred love
On the mean altar of my heart.

Ready for all Thy perfect will
My acts of faith and love repeat
Till death Thy endless mercies seal
And make the sacrifice complete.


10. John Wesley: All the Trumpets Sounded for Him:

John Wesley is often quoted as saying, ‘Our people die well,’ and so it is fitting that this final look at Wesley and his work should be a summary of how he ended his earthly pilgrimage. In November 1753, thinking he was dying, he wrote his own epitaph and described himself as ‘a brand plucked from the burning,’ (Zechariah 3:2) a reference both to his dramatic escape from the fire that destroyed his rectory home in 1709, and his escape, through grace, from the fires of damnation. Then in 1783 he was struck down with a serious illness in Bristol and his friends were certain he would not recover. Wesley himself thought likewise and said to Joseph Bradford, his travelling companion, ‘I have been reflecting on my past life. I have been wandering up and down between fifty and sixty years, endeavouring in my poor way to do a little good to my fellow creatures. Now it is probable that there but a few steps between me and death, and what have I to trust to for salvation? I can see nothing which I have done or suffered that will bear looking at. I have no other plea than this:

I the chief of sinners am
But Jesus died for me.

But his life was spared for another eight years. On Thursday October 7th, 1790, at the age of eighty-seven, he preached his last open-air sermon under an ash tree in Winchelsea in Sussex. Four months later he preached his very last sermon at Leatherhead in Surrey and chose for his text, ‘Seek the Lord while He may be found’ (Is. 55:6). It marked the end of a remarkable ministry, one unparalleled in the history of the Church. Fifty three years earlier his heart had been ‘strangely warmed’ in the meeting in Aldersgate Street in London and from that place, his Spirit-anointed ministry had not ceased for more than half a century. On horseback he travelled the roads of Great Britain, covering about a third of a million miles. He had preached more than forty-five thousand times and his ‘Methodist’ people, in Britain and America, numbered one hundred thousand. He was supported by three hundred full-time travelling preachers. With his brother Charles he had written, edited and published four hundred titles including biblical commentaries, letters, sermons, theological treatises, and much else for the edification and of his people. In the final decade of his life he had become one of best-known men in England and received more invitations to preach than he could possibly accept. Then, in his house in City Road, London, on Sunday, February 26th 1791, he began to enter ‘the valley of the shadow of death.’ When his friends, knowing his end was near, prayed with him, he replied with a hearty ‘Amen.’ Then he said to them: ‘There is no need for more than what I said at Bristol, “I the chief of sinners am, But Jesus died for me.’” Later he said to those gathered round his bed, ‘The best of all is, God is with us.’ Two days later, as he attempted to repeat the words of Isaac Watts’ hymn, ‘I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath,’ his spirit crossed the river, and in Bunyan’s immortal words, ‘all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.’ In death, as in life, John Wesley proved that saving faith in Christ as Saviour and Lord is the guarantee, the only guarantee, of life eternal.

Revd Dr Herbert McGonigle
Principal and Senior Lecturer in Historical Theology and Wesley Studies
Nazarene Theological College



© The Wesley Fellowship 2011.
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