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"Reproduced by courtesy
The death of John Wesley

Read the history of the life of John Wesley and his impact on the world.

BBC Religion & Ethics

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John Wesley was born on the 17th of June 1703 (The 28th of June in the modern calendar).

The 15th of 19 children born to Samuel Wesley, Rector of Epworth, and his wife Susanna.

"Reproduced by courtesy
John Wesley
Epworth was isolated and poverty-stricken. Only a few could read or write and the people were deeply suspicious of outsiders. But together with Susanna, Samuel Wesley campaigned for social justice and particularly the care of widows and orphans.

He believed that Christian living depended on acts as well as faith. This puritan parental influence would be the inspiration for John Wesley’s work, and that of his brother Charles, who went on to write over 6000 hymns.

John Wesley was baptised at his father’s Church, St Andrew’s in Epworth, and worshipped here as a child.

The Old Rectory in Epworth was the Wesley family home until 1735. It was rebuilt after fire destroyed the original building 1709. It is suspected that this fire was an act of arson perpetrated by opponents of Samuel Wesley.

"Reproduced by courtesy
Wesley is rescued from the fire
The fire could have killed the six year-old John, but he escaped from a first floor window. He was afterwards referred to by his mother as "a brand plucked from the burning".

After attending Charterhouse school in London, John Wesley went on to Christ Church, Oxford, where he received a bachelor’s degree in 1724 and a masters degree three years later.

He became a fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford in 1726, where he helped establish the Holy Club, dubbed 'Methodist' due to their prescribed method of studying the Bible.

He was ordained a deacon in the Church of England in 1725 and then ordained as a priest in 1728.

He became Curate to his father in the parish of Wroot and remained in the post for two years before returning to Oxford.

Wesley was vocal about ordinary people being excluded from the church. And although he was always fiercely loyal to the established church he was often barred from the pulpit for his opinions.

So, beginning in Bristol, he began to address the public in open areas, giving rise to ‘Field preaching’ as a feature of Methodism.

"Reproduced by courtesy
John Wesley preaching at Epworth market cross

On visits back to Epworth he would deliver sermons from the Market Cross in the centre of the town.

For the rest of his life Wesley would preach to crowds, often numbering many thousands, throughout Britain and Ireland.

He is said to have preached 40,000 sermons and travelled 250,000 miles. Until his death in 1791 he continued to tirelessly campaign on social issues such as prison reform and universal education.

His last known letter described black slavery as 'that execrable villainy'. Wesley famously said "I look upon the whole world as my parish"…

Today there are 300,000 members of the Methodist Church in Britain. World-wide, it is estimated that there are around 70 million Methodists, so from small beginnings in Epworth, John Wesley’s influence has indeed reached every corner of the globe.


BBC Religion & Ethics - Christianity

Images on this page Reproduced by courtesy of the Director and Librarian, the John Rylands University Library of Manchester.



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