John Wesley

Biographical Sketch

by David Park, Biola University 


Summary of life:

  • John Wesley’s father was Samuel Wesley, the rector of their native parish. He and his wife Susanna were raised in Puritan dissent, but they made it back to the Church of England as young people. Samuel was a good pastor, especially in the area of pastoral visitation. He also conducted public worship, was a serious study of not only the Bible, but also in the original languages (which is how John was received knowledge of Latin and Greek). He is known to have ruled his hour with an iron first.
  • 1669: Susanna, John Wesley’s mother is born on January 20th, in London. She has an impressive ancestry – her family members were members of nobility and held leadership positions inside the government. Susanna’s father was a successful pastor in London trained at Oxford. For this reason, home life was very religious and influenced Susanna greatly. She received a good education and studied theology and attacked issues such as Socinianism, Arianism, and questions concerning conformity and non-conformity.
  • 1703: John Wesley is born on Jun 28th (June 17 by the Julian calendar which was used at that time) at Epworth in Lincolnshire. He was the fifteenth child of eighteen or nineteen children.
  • 1709: John Wesley is rescued from burning parsonage in Epworth. Throughout his life he would think of himself as “a brand plucked from the fire” Zechariah 3:2 and Amos 4:11.
  • 1714-20: he began his formal education at the age of 10, at London’s Charterhouse School.
  • 1721-24: by 16, he became a student at Christ Church, Oxford.
  • 1725: began keeping a spiritual journal while he studied for his Masters.
  • 1726: elected to Fellow at Lincoln College in Oxford where he taught Greek and lectured on the New Testament.
  • 1727: awarded Masters in Arts and became a curate at Epworth and Wroot under his father.
  • 1728: he became an ordained priest of the Anglican Church.
  • 1729: he returned to Oxford and takes over leadership of the Holy Club. The group met daily for prayer, Psalms, and reading of the New Testament in Greek. They fasted weekly on Wednesdays and Fridays until 3pm. In 1730, they began visiting prisoners in jail. Additionally, they were committed to putting converts into class meetings. This type of methodological study of Scripture and their devotion to discipleship is how they earned the name “Methodists.”
  • 1735: Samuel dies on April 25th; John and Charles (his brother, the famous Charles Wesley) sail for Georgia to become missionaries. On this trip, the Moravians had deeply impressed John Wesley. He was impressed by how calmly the Moravians would sing their hymnals and pray during a dangerous storm. John wrote that his main motivation for becoming a missionary was: “the hope of saving my own soul.” He also wanted to “learn the true sense of the Gospel of Christ, by preaching it to the heathen.”
  • 1737: John leaves Georgia to return to England.
  • 1738: on his way back to London, he went with the Moravian Peter Boehler to a meeting in Aldersgate Street. It was at this social meeting that he received his personal assurance of salvation and his heart was “strangely warmed.”

“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 through 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.”

  • 1739: first “open air” preaching in Bristol under the influence of George Whitefield. This is the start of the Methodist Revival and he would go on preaching for 50 years throughout the British Isles. It is estimated that he covered over 250,000 miles, and he preached an average of 3 times per day starting from 5am. It is calculated that he preached over 40,000 sermons.
  • 1740: begins Kingswood School for coal-miners’ children.
  • 1744: begins annual meetings with traveling preachers.
  • 1751: marries Mary Vazeille.
  • 1760-62: controversies concerning Christian perfectionism.
  • 1763: Model Deed adopted.
  • 1765: gave the sermon “The Salvation Way of Salvation.
  • 1769: sends first group of lay preachers to North America.
  • 1771: issues first set of collected works.
  • 1781: Wesley’s wife dies.
  • 1784: “blesses New American church. He ordains Thomas coke and others which eventually leads to break with the Anglican Church.
  • 1788: Charles Wesley dies on March 29th.
  • 1791: John Wesley dies on March 2nd.


  • Co-founder of the Methodists-heritages all over the world: the United Methodist Church, the Methodist Church of Great Britain, and the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
  • Kingswood School, which he founded in 1748 to educate children of the Methodist preachers.
  • Most prominent advocate of Arminianism.


  • Susanna: emphasized the values of meditation in life and thought often on God’s creation, His providence, and the fullness and efficacy of the glories of God and the operations of the Spirit. She was the one who conducted all religious activities and services. Susanna emphasized the practice of holy vigilance and self-control. She constantly warned against the misusing of the tongue as well as anger. She also put much emphasis on exercising control over the fleshly passions and desires, particularly drunkenness. Her counsel greatly influenced Wesley’s decision to enter ministry. Susanna constantly spoke to Wesley about theology and she can be credited for the simplicity his sermons and its directness. Many consider Susanna the real mother of Methodism.
  • Moravians: Peter also influenced both John and his brother Charles to undertake evangelistic preaching which emphasized conversion and holiness. Wesley also adopted the Moravians emphasis on personal experience fostered by small group study for encouragement, and their passion for singing hymnals which can be seen in Methodism today.
  • George Whitefield: invited Wesley to join his evangelism ministry. Whitefield was also one of the leaders of the Methodist movement and some say that he had more influence on the founding of Methodism even more so than John did. Wesley also swept away his ecclesiastical and High Church views and began preaching in the fields at Bristol because of George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards’ successful open-air preaching. George and Wesley parted ways as a result of disagreement on the doctrine of predestination.
  • Charles Wesley: the brother of John and also the co-founder of Wesleyans and the Methodists. He is known as one of the most prolific English-speaking poets, composing more than 6,500 hymns.
  • Jacobus Arminius: John Wesley is known as the most prominent champion of Arminian theology.
  • The Church Fathers: Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origen, Cyprian, Marcarius and Ephraim Syrus. He considered them the foundation of Christianity.


  • Wesleyan Church
  • The Free Methodist Church
  • The Church of the Nazarene
  • Other several smaller groups from which the Holiness movement, Pentecostalism, and parts of the Charismatic Movement are offshoots.


  • Wesleyan Quadrilateral: scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.
    • Scripture: The Bible was his primary authority. Christians should focus on what is found in it, and not what is not found. He believed that it was inspired by the Holy Spirit and by men who were inspired by the Holy Spirit.
    • Tradition: He was influenced by German Pietism, English Dissenters, British in holiness (British were chiefly moralists), High Church Anglicism, and the Early Church Fathers.
    • Reason: He was a child of the Enlightenment. He believed that religion and reason went hand in hand. He rejected mysticism.
    • Experience: He emphasized Christian Experience. To him experience was two-fold: a direct experience of God’s love and an appeal to the community of believers for confirmation of conduct and doctrine. He rejected the idea that religion was just doctrine and conduct and substituted faith and feeling. For him, experience was a practical matter. Experience meant the experience of God and the work of the Spirit.
  • The Order of Salvation: Wesley believed in original sin and that salvation from it began with justification, then continued in sanctification, and would end with glorification.
  • Free Grace and Predestination:
  • Total depravity: contrary to common belief, Wesley maintained that man was totally depraved and did not believe that fallen man had inherent free will.
  • Atonement: he believed that it was universal in scope and was sufficient to atone for the sins of the entire world.
  • Prevenient Grace: he believed that it was God’s way of restoring a certain measure of freedom (not libertarian freedom) for mankind so that mankind could respond to God’s grace – this act of God also being grace. Hence, he did not believe that man in its fallen state had inherent free will.
  • Resistible Grace: God’s does not coerce man to believe in him; therefore, his grace is resistible.
  • Predestination: it is based on God’s foreknowledge and not God’s will. Man is predestined only in the sense that he predestines those who will respond to his offer of salvation to eternal life based on his foreknowledge of their choice.
  • Assurance of Salvation: it is given to us by the Holy Spirit who witnesses to us our inclusion into the family of God; confirmation comes from seeing fruit in one’s life.
  • Christian Perfection: he taught that Christians could attain some degree of perfection in the present life.

“…that habitual disposition of the soul which, in the sacred writings, is termed holiness; and which directly implies being cleansed from sin, ‘from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit’; and, by consequence, being endued with those virtues which were in Christ Jesus; being so ‘renewed in the image of our mind,’ as to be ‘perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect’

Wesley said that this perfection is “spoken as receivable by mere faith, and as hindered only by unbelief.” Furthermore, “this faith, and consequently the salvation which it brings, is spoken of as given in an instant… It is supposed that the instant may be now.”

By perfect, it does not mean that a person is perfect in knowledge or free from ignorance or error.


Genres: Wesley wrote and edited the following types of works: poetical, practical, historical, controversial, political, polemical, journals, biography, autobiography, letters, accounts of holy deaths, and sermons. He did not write a book on systematic theology.

Major Works:

  • A Plan Account of Christian Perfection (1777)
  • The Desideratum; or, Electricity Made Plain and Useful (1760)
  • Thirteen Discourses on the Sermon on the Mount (1746)
  • Explanatory Notes on the New Testament (1755)
  • Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739)
  • Explanatory Notes upon the Old Testament (1765)
  • The Arminian Magazine (1779)


  • Baker, Frank, ed. The Works of John Wesley. Bicentennial ed. Vol. 25: Letters I. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1980.
  • Outler, Albert C., ed. John Wesley. The Library of Protestant Thought. New York: Oxford University Press, 1964.
  • A Christian Library (London: T. Blanshard, 1819-1827)

Secondary Works:

  • Abelove, Henry. The Evangelist of Desire: John Wesley and the Methodists. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1990.
  • Collins, Kenneth J. Wesley on Salvation: A Study in the Standard Sermons. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Francis Asbury Press of Zondervan Publishing House, 1989.
  • —. A Faithful Witness: John Wesley’s Homiletical Theology. Wilmore, Kentucky: Wesley Heritage Press, 1993.
  • —. The Scripture Way of Salvation: The Heart of John Wesley’s Theology. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1997.
  • —.A Real Christian: The Life of John Wesley. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1999.


Bryne, Herbert W. John Wesley and Learning. Salem, Ohio: Schmul Pub. Co., 1997

Collins, Kenneth J. A Faithful Witness: John Wesley’s Homiletical Theology. Wilmore,       KY: Wesley Heritage Press, 1993.

—. The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2007.

—. A Real Christian: The Life of John Wesley. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1999.

Hammond, Dr. Peter. “John and Charles Wesley – Evangelists Extraordinary.” Accessed December 5, 2016.        index.php/history/270-john-and-charles-wesley-evangelists-extraordinary.

Maddox, Randy L., and Jason E. Vickers, eds. The Cambridge Companion to John            Wesley. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Pedlar, James. “John Wesley on Predestination.” Last           modified February 16th, 2012. Accessed December 5, 2016. https://jamespedlar. 2012/02/1 6/john-wesley-on-predestination/.

United States History. “John and Charles Wesley.” Accessed December            4, 2016.

Vial, Ted. “Methodist Influences.” Patheos. Accessed December 4, 2016.




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