by Johnathan Arnold
Childhood at Epworth (1703-1713)
Despite unsettling circumstances, Wesley’s mother Susanna held the home together with impressive structure. She had nineteen children, including John, who ate, prayed, and slept at fixed times. As soon as her children could speak, they were taught to pray the Lord’s Prayer and soon began memorizing Scripture, catechism, and written prayers. Susanna homeschooled each child, starting at age five, with rigorous studies in every area of knowledge she deemed useful.
God’s hand was clearly upon John from a young age. The five-year-old nearly died in the Epworth Parsonage fire, leaping out of an upper window into a rescuer’s arms just as the whole roof fell in; he forever considered himself “a brand plucked out of the fire.” In his journals, Wesley tells that forty-one years later during a watch-night service he “gave a short account of that wonderful providence. The voice of praise and thanksgiving went up on high, and great was our rejoicing before the Lord.” Everyone knew that John had been spared for a mighty work.
Five-year-old John Wesley was spared for a mighty work.
Education at Charterhouse (1714-1719)
John showed exceptional diligence for a ten-year-old boy and quickly became a favorite of the illustrious schoolmaster, Dr. Thomas Walker. One day, Mr. Tooke, a teacher at the school, was alarmed to find that all of the boys were missing from the playground; he soon found them in the schoolroom gathered around John, who was instructing them with stories. John’s older brother reported to their father that John was “learning Hebrew as fast as he can.”
During this time, John hoped to be saved by “not being so bad as other people, having still a kindness for religion, and reading the Bible, going to church, and saying my prayers.”
College at Christ Church, Oxford (1720-1724)
One of John’s contemporaries described him as “the very sensible and acute collegian baffling every man by the subtleties of logic, and laughing at them for being so easily routed; a young fellow of the finest classical taste, of the most liberal and manly sentiments.” Wesley was lively and lighthearted, well-known for his wit and humor. His work was polished, and he showed gifting in poetry, like his father. Unfortunately, these days were tainted by poor health and financial struggle. Wesley was embarrassed by his amassing debt and lived on a puny allowance. He learned to keep a careful diet of meat, vegetables, and water.
Ordination and the Teaching Fellowship at Lincoln College, Oxford (1725-1727)
Wesley was ordained deacon in Christ Church Cathedral on September 19, 1725, and he soon delivered his first sermon. Three years later, at the same place, he was ordained as a priest in the Anglican Church.
Wesley began pursuing his divinity studies and in 1726 was unanimously elected to a Fellowship at Lincoln College — another of Oxford’s constituent colleges. This secured a room at the college, a regular salary, and opportunities to study and lecture. Again, his father Samuel gave sacrificially to underwrite John’s pursuits: “What will be my own fate God knows. But we have suffered heavier troubles…Whatever I am, my Jack is Fellow of Lincoln.”
“I propose to be busy as long as I live.” (John Wesley)
Wesley also served as a lecturer in Greek, as well as logic and philosophy. He was held in high regard by all of the Fellows, one of which remarked to Wesley, “I consider those shining qualities which I hear daily mentioned in your praise.”
“The first priority of my life is to be holy, and the second goal of my life is to be a scholar.” (John Wesley)
Assisting at Wroote (1727-1729)
Wesley made frequent trips to Oxford while serving at Wroote, but in October 1729, he received a letter encouraging him to return full-time and take on pupils.
Back to Oxford (1729-1735)
Moderating discussions at Oxford, Wesley became an expert in debate. Logical argument clearly marks his sermons.
While John was helping his father at Wroote, his brother Charles had become serious about religion and started a small society to grow in spirituality. The society, known as the “new Methodists” for their methodical approach to life, was named after an ancient school of physicians who thought all diseases could be cured by a specific method of diet and exercise. Others called them the “Holy Club.” When Wesley came back to Oxford, he was immediately recognized as their leader.
Continue reading: Oxford to Aldersgate: John Wesley’s Journey to Faith
Green, Richard. “John Wesley – Evangelist.” Wesley Center Online.
“John Wesley the Methodist: A Plain Account of His Life and Work.” Wesley Center Online.
“John Wesley: Methodical pietist.” Christianity Today.
Telford, John. “The Life of John Wesley.” Wesley Center Online.
Wesley, John. “The Journals of John Wesley.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library.