John Wesley

Evangelist and Founder of Methodism

After his conversion, Wesley became involved in evangelistic work, in the course of which he is said to have preached 40,000 sermons and to have traveled 250,000 mi (400,000 km). On the advice of Whitefield, Wesley undertook open-air, or field, preaching, first in Bristol, then elsewhere. In 1739 a group in London requested him to aid them in forming a society and to act as their leader. An old foundry at Moorfields was purchased; it remained until 1778 the center of Methodist work in London. Because of his Arminianism (see under Arminius, Jacobus) and belief in Christian perfection, Wesley repudiated (c.1740) the Calvinist doctrine of election. This led to a break with Whitefield, although the personal friendship of the two Methodist leaders remained firm.

In 1784, Wesley executed the deed of declaration by which the Methodist societies became legally constituted; it was in essence the charter of the Wesleyan Methodists. In the same year he became convinced that he must ordain a superintendent to administer sacraments and to serve the Methodist societies in America, although he had long hesitated to assume the authority of ordination. Wesley ordained Dr. Thomas Coke to this office; Francis Asbury was to serve as associate superintendent.

It was not Wesley's intention to found a separate church, but toward the end of his life the Methodist Episcopal Church had already come into existence in America, and it became apparent that in England the Methodists could not work within the Anglican Church. He therefore made plans for his societies to go on independently after his death, although both Wesleys remained clergymen of the Church of England to the end of their lives. During John Wesley's later years admiration for his abilities largely replaced the rejection he had endured in earlier days.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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