Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Wesley, John

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WESLEY, John, founder of Methodism, b. in Epworth, Lincolnshire, England, 17 June, 1703; d. in London, 2 March, 1791. He was graduated at Christ church college, Oxford, in 1727, and the same year he was ordained presbyter and was his father's curate at Epworth, but he returned to Oxford as tutor in 1729, and became the head of the society that had been founded by his brother Charles and others for personal purification by means of “prayer, fastings, alms, and labors among the poor,” the members of which in derision were called “Methodists.” In 1735 he accompanied Gen. James Oglethorpe to Georgia as a missionary to the Indians. He began his labors in Savannah, preached and read the liturgy daily, forded rivers, crossed swamps, slept on the ground, fasted, and went barefooted among the children at school to encourage those who had no shoes. His preaching was at first successful, but his rigorous discipline became distasteful alike to settlers and Indians, and at length, on becoming the subject of enmity and persecution, through his attempt to influence the secular affairs of the colony, he relinquished his work and returned to England in 1738. Shortly after his return he formed the first Methodist society in London, and in the following year, the established churches being closed against him, he joined George Whitefield in his open-air preaching. The number of societies increased, and in May he laid the foundation of the first Methodist chapel in the world at Bristol. At first there was no design to form a new denomination, his desire being rather to promote a revival within the established church. About 1740 differences with Whitefield on doctrinal questions caused the division of the societies into the Calvinistic and Arminian Methodists. He employed laymen in 1741 to take charge of the societies during his travels, assigned them circuits, thus forming the Methodist itineracy, and convened the first annual conference on 25 June, 1744. In 1760 some of his followers sailed for America from Ireland, and became the pioneers of Methodism in the New World. (See Embury, Philip; Heck, Barbara; and Strawbridge, Robert.) In 1769 Wesley, in response to an appeal from New York, sent over his first missionaries, who were followed by others in 1771. (See Asbury, Francis.) In 1780 Mr. Wesley, having been importuned by his missionaries for an ordained ministry, petitioned Bishop Lowth, of London, to ordain a presbyter to administer the sacraments in America. Being refused, he conferred with Thomas Coke, a presbyter of the Church of England, and with others, and on 2 Sept., 1784, he ordained Coke bishop, after ordaining Thomas Vasey and Richard Whatcoat as presbyters, with his assistance and that of another presbyter. Bishop Coke immediately sailed for this country, and established the Methodist Episcopal church. This same year Wesley issued his “Deed of Declaration,” by which the government of the church was assigned to the conference of 100 members and their successors forever. Wesley had sent by Bishop Coke an abridgment of the English liturgy, entitled “The Sunday Services of the Methodists in North America” (London, 1784), with a “Collection of Psalms and Hymns for the Lord's Day,” by John and Charles Wesley (1784). The liturgy soon fell into disuse. He abridged the “Articles of Religion” from the Forty-nine articles of the English church, and the “Discipline of American Methodism” (1785) from his “Large Minutes”; and his “General Rules” for membership was adopted by the conference. His works number about 200 volumes. Collections of his writings have appeared in London (32 vols., 1771-'4; 16 vols., 1806). The first American edition was published in Philadelphia (10 vols., 1826). The best is a corrected edition by Rev. Thomas Jackson, D. D. (7 vols., New York, 1831). His life was written by Dr. Thomas Coke and Henry Moore, to whom all his manuscripts were left (London, 1792); by Robert Southey (2 vols., London, 1820); and by Rev. Luke Tyerman (3 vols., London, 1870-'1). See also “History of the Religious Movement of the Eighteenth Century,” by Rev. Abel Stevens, D. D. (3 vols., New York, 1859-'62); “History of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America,” by the same (4 vols., New York, 1864-'7; abridged ed., 1868); the “Living Wesley,” by Dr. James Harrison Rigg (London, 1875); and “Journal of John Wesley,” in his works, edited by John Emory (7 vols., New York, 1835). — His brother, Charles, clergyman, b. in Epworth, England, 18 Dec., 1708; d. in London, 29 March, 1788, was graduated at Oxford in 1732, and in 1729 was the founder of the society there which, under the leadership of John, was the beginning of Arminian Methodism. After being ordained, he sailed with his brother for Georgia, as Gen. Oglethorpe's secretary, and preacher to the colonists. But the latter refused to conform to the severity of his discipline, and, after an unsuccessful effort in Frederica, he went to Savannah, thence to Charleston, and returned home in 1736. Two years later he joined his brother's itinerancy, meeting with great success, and spent the last years of his life in London. He is best known as a hymn-writer, standing second only to Dr. John Watts. He wrote 7,000 hymns, most of which possess great merit, 625 being in use by the Wesleyans. A volume of his sermons, with a memoir, was published in 1816; a “Journal,” with notes, by Rev. Thomas Jackson (2 vols., London, 1841); and a “Poetical Version of the Psalms of David,” edited by the Rev. Henry Fish (Nashville, Tenn., 1854); See “Memorials of the Wesley Family” (London, 1876).