Samuel, an English clergyman, born in Preston in 1662, '66, or '68, according to different authorities, died April 30, 1735. He was the son of a dissenting minister, but early joined the church of England, was educated at Oxford, took orders, served a curacy in London for a year, and was then for another year chaplain on board a manof-war. He was again a London curate for two years, during which he married and made some reputation as a writer for the press, and afterward obtained a small living in the country. He preached against King James's " Declaration for Liberty of Conscience" (1688), and when the revolution took place is said to have written a book in defence of it. Afterward he was presented to the livings of Epworth and Wroote in Lincolnshire. He wrote a heroic poem on "The Life of Christ" (fol., 1693); "Elegies on Queen Mary and Archbishop Tillotson" (fol., 1695); "The History of the New Testament attempted in Verse" (1701), followed by a similar " History of the Old Testament " (1704); a poem on the battle of Blenheim (1705), for which Marlborough made him chaplain of a regiment; a Latin commentary on the book of Job (edited by his eldest son, 1735); and a "Treatise on the Sacrament." According to his son John, he wrote the defence delivered by Dr. Sacheverell before the house of lords.
Samuel, eldest (or at least eldest surviving) son of the preceding, born at Epworth in 1690 or 1692, died Nov. 6, 1739. He was educated at Westminster school and at Oxford, and was afterward for nearly 20 years an usher in the former. He took orders, but obtained no preferment. He viewed the " new faith" and peculiar conduct of his brothers John and Charles with strong disapprobation, and wrote a letter of remonstrance to his mother when he heard that she had become " one of Jack's congregation." At the time of his death he had been for seven years head master of Tiverton school. A collection of his poems, containing some remarkable humorous pieces, appeared in 1736. His correspondence with his brother forms the principal part of Dr. Priestley's collection of " Original Letters by the Reverend John Wesley and his Friends " (8vo, Birmingham, 1791).
John, founder of Methodism, brother of the preceding, born at Epworth, Lincolnshire, June 17, 1703, died in London, March 2, 1791. His mother, Susannah, combined rare intellectual powers and indomitable will with refinement of manners and devotion to domestic duties. Her home was the family school, where the children were taught in the most thorough and methodical manner. In his 11th year John became a pupil of the Charterhouse, London, and in his 17th was elected to Christ Church college, Oxford. He was ordained deacon in 1725, elected a fellow of Lincoln college in 1726, and appointed Greek lecturer and moderator of the classes, and graduated as master of arts in 1727. The serious impressions produced by the writings of Thomas a Kempis and Jeremy Taylor were further deepened by those of William Law, especially by his " Serious Call." He became his father's curate at Wroote in August, 1727, was ordained priest in 1728, and returned to Oxford in November, 1729. Here he found a few young men, including his brother Charles, Robert Kirkham, and William Morgan, who were earnestly seeking a deeper religious experience. Of these and some 20 others, who were subsequently added, Wesley soon became the acknowledged leader.
They spent much of their leisure time in religious exercises, in visiting almshouses and prisons, and in administering to the relief of the suffering. As tutor in Lincoln college, and as moderator in the daily disputations, Wesley continued at Oxford till 1735, devoting his entire leisure to earnest Biblical study and active Christian labors. At the repeated solicitations of Dr. John Burton and Gen. Oglethorpe, in 1735 he undertook a mission to the colony of Georgia, one of his chief objects being the conversion of the Indians. Accompanied by his brother Charles and two Oxford associates, he embarked in October. During the voyage he made the acquaintance of some Moravian missionaries, whose doctrines and composure in the midst of threatened death exerted a powerful influence on him. The rigid ecclesiastical discipline which he attempted to enforce was highly distasteful to many of the colonists, and Wesley was involved in a suit for defamation, which however was never brought to an issue. He returned to England in February, 1738, and immediately sought the society of the Moravians. He began diligently to examine their teachings, and received valuable aid from Peter Böhler, one of the missionaries then on their way from Herrnhut to Georgia. On the evening of May 24, 1738, he went to a meeting of the Moravian society in Aldersgate street, London, where was read Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans. Of the effect Wesley says: " I felt my heart strangely warmed.
I felt I did trust 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." This is his own account of his conversion, the vivid recollection of which he retained during all his life, and to which he often referred with the utmost confidence and triumphant joy. Three weeks afterward he visited Herrnhut, the centre of Moravian operations, where he listened to Christian David, had earnest conversations with Zinzendorf, and was confirmed in some of his religious opinions. He returned to England in September, and from this time forward was moved by an unconquerable zeal to declare a free salvation to all men through simple faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Till December he preached constantly in the churches of London and vicinity, and in the prisons and almshouses. His sermons were not generally well received within the establishment, and there seemed little sympathy with his earnestness. On Whitefield's return to England in December of this year he found the churches closed against him. This led him to engage in openair preaching at Bristol. In May, 1739, Wesley joined him there and began to preach to immense multitudes.
After Whitefield had gone into Wales, Wesley, for the sake of more thorough instruction, began to gather the converts into "bands," and appoint times and places for prayer and counsel. On May 12 he laid in Bristol the corner stone of the first Methodist chapel, control of which, contrary to his own purpose, became vested in himself, as did that of all the other Wesleyan chapels built during his lifetime. In. November he opened the foundery chapel in Moorfields, London, and this became the headquarters of the Methodist movement. Here was organized the first "society," consisting of eight or ten persons, "who came to Wesley and desired him to spend some time with them in prayer, and advise them how to flee from the wrath to come." From London as a centfe he made long and frequent journeys, usually on horseback, preaching generally twice a day, and often four times on Sunday. During the year 1739 he began a series of publications for the exposition of his views, for the encouragement and instruction of the " societies," and for the defence of his course against his opponents.
The doctrinal differences between himself and the Moravians had become more and more serious, and resulted in his formal and solemn separation from them in July, 1740. About the same time, also, Wesley published a sermon on "Free Grace," in which he strenuously opposed the doctrine of election and predestination. Whitefield while in America had embraced the Augustinian doctrine; and he had requested Wesley to refrain from the publication of his sermon, for the sake of the peace of the societies. The effects of it were the temporary alienation of Whitefield and Wesley, and the organization of the Lady Huntingdon Methodists and the Calvinistic Methodists in Wales. From this time there were two distinct movements: the Calvinistic, led on by George Whitefield, and the Arminian, by John Wesley. Wesley's work was now greatly enlarged. In spite of much opposition and ridicule, it became necessary to provide for the increasing evangelical labor, and for the more careful oversight and nurture of such as had been formed into "bands." In 1742 he first employed a lay ministry, although lay preaching had been practised several years by Cennick, Humphreys, and Nelson. His journeys were soon extended into Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. He seldom travelled less than 40 miles a day, generally on horseback; and for 50 years, it is said, there was not an instance of detention on account of the severity of the weather.
He formed societies, employed lay preachers, appointed class leaders, devised a most effective system of church finance, wrote and published books and tracts, and established schools. In the neglected mining and manufacturing districts were witnessed the most wonderful effects of his preaching. The miners of Cornwall came together in thousands, and thousands were converted and reformed from the lowest vices. The first Methodist conference was assembled in the foundery chapel on June 25, 1744. Besides the two Wesleys, there were present four ordained ministers of the church of England and four lay preachers. It is evident that the design of Wesley up to this time was simply to effect a religious revival within the church of England, and save the neglected multitudes. During the year 1744 most bitter persecutions were suffered by the Methodists, especially in Staffordshire; and frequent attacks were made upon Wesley through the journals and by pamphlets. Under these circumstances he published his "Earnest Appeal to men of Reason and Religion," which consists largely of a defence of the opinions and practices of the Methodists, and soon afterward appeared his "Further Appeal." From the discussions of the conference of 1747 it is plain that his views of eoclesiastical polity and administration had undergone very considerable change.
According to his own statement, this had been caused chiefly by reading Lord King's "Primitive Church." Nevertheless, he did not entertain the suggestion of separation from the church of England, but in 1758 published twelve reasons against it. These, however, are all based on the simple inexpediency, and not on the unlawfulness of such separation. On the death of Whitefield, the Calvinistic controversy broke forth with increased violence. This was the occasion of some of Wesley's most vigorous writings, and brought to his aid the powerful pen of Fletcher. From this time each branch went its own way to do its own work. In 1770 preachers had been sent to America. The zeal of some Irish Methodist emigrants in New York, of some earnest laborers in Maryland, and of these missionaries had been most successful, and had laid the foundations of a future church. On the establishment of the independence of the colonies, the Methodists in America called for the administration of the sacraments at the hands of their preachers.
Since Wesley had for years been satisfied that the orders of bishop and presbyter in the primitive church were essentially the same, in 1784, with the assistance of others, he ordained Thomas Coke superintendent or bishop of the Methodist societies in America, and empowered him to confer the like office on Francis Asbury. (See Methodism.) At the session of the conference of 1784 Wesley provided for the perpetuity of the work after his death by naming in a deed of declaration 100 preachers who should constitute a " legal conference," and who should hold in trust the chapels and other property, and have the general oversight of the affairs of the societies. The ordination of Coke and Asbury greatly offended Charles Wesley, and he denounced it as a schism. It also caused excitement and alarm among many officials of the establishment. Wesley justified the act both on the grounds of right and of expediency, and in 1786 he ordained six or seven other preachers, sending some to Scotland and others to foreign parts. Three years later he ordained Mather, Rankin, and Moore " to administer the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's supper according to the usages of the church of England." During the last four years of his life his strength had continued to decline, yet not his zeal or his labors.
The same untiring energy which had characterized his life for more than 60 years was conspicuous to the closing week of his career. The last four days he spent in praising God, exclaiming at intervals: "He causeth his servants to lie down in peace;" "The Lord is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge;" " The best of all is, God is with us." He was buried in the cemetery behind the City Road chapel. A monument to him and Charles Wesley in Westminster abbey was unveiled by Dean Stanley, March 30, 1876. - John Wesley's organizing power was extraordinary, his control over men most exceptional, and his diligence scarcely paralleled. His style in the pulpit was fluent, clear, argumentative, often amusing, well suited to the capacity of his hearers, but never impassioned like Whitefield's. He had a mild and grave countenance, which in old age appeared extremely venerable. His manners were polite and entirely free from gloom or austerity. He was married in 1752 to Mrs. Vizelle, a wealthy widow with four children. This union, which proved exceedingly unfortunate, was without issue. During the 65 years of his ministry he travelled about 270,000 miles, mostly on horseback, and delivered over 40,000 sermons, besides addresses, exhortations, and prayers.
He was a voluminous writer, and his works, edited, translated, and original, cover a very wide range of topics, including theology, philosophy, history, poetry, polemics, experimental piety, etc, besides a "Journal" which was begun at Oxford and continued during almost his entire public career. A collection of his works appeared during his lifetime (32 vols. 12mo, 1771-'4), and another in 1809 (16 vols. 8vo). A thoroughly corrected edition, and the best, was prepared by Thomas Jackson, D. D., in 1831 (7 vols. 8vo, New York). - The life of Wesley has been written by Thomas Coke and Henry Moore, to whom all his manuscripts were left (8vo, 1792), Whitehead (1793 -'6), Robert Southey (2 vols. 8vo, 1820; best ed., with notes by D. Curry, D. D., 2 vols. 12mo, New York, 1847), Moore (1824), Richard Watson (1831), and L. Tyerman (3 vols. 8vo, New York, 1870; 3d ed., 1876). In this last the author, in his endeavor to give the latest results and to be impartial, has possibly given too much prominence to foibles, and brought to public view what just biography permits to be kindly veiled.
See also Isaac Taylor, " Wesley and Methodism " (1851); Abel Stevens, "History of the Religious Movement of the Eighteenth Century called Methodism " (3 vols. 12mo, New York, 1859-'62); and L. Tyerman, "The Oxford Methodists" (1873).
Charles, an English clergyman, brother of the preceding, born at Epworth, Dec. 18,1708, died in London, March 29, 1788. He was educated at Westminster school and at Oxford. When John went as a missionary to Georgia, Charles accompanied him, in the capacity of secretary to the governor of the colony. When they arrived in America Charles went to Frederica. Failing to carry out his strict views of Christian discipline, he returned to Savannah, and then went to Charleston, whence he sailed for Europe. He preached for a while to large congregations at Blackheath, near London, and after the return of his brother from Georgia entered upon the itinerant ministry. After his marriage in 1749 he confined his labors mostly to London and its vicinity. A volume of his sermons, his journal, and two volumes of his hymns, which possess extraordinary merit, have been published. He left two sons, Charles and Samuel, who were remarkable musicians. - See Stevenson's "Memorials of the Wesley Family " (London, 1876), which includes historical biographies of its leading members for nearly 250 years.