1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Wesley

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 2:216-17.



JOHN WESLEY was more learned, and in all respects better fitted to become the leader and founder of a sect [than George Whitfield]. His father was rector of Epworth, in Lincolnshire, where John was born in 1703. He was educated at Oxford, where he and his brother Charles, and a few other students, lived in a regular system of pious study and discipline, whence they were denominated Methodists. After officiating a short time as curate to his father, the young enthusiast set off as a missionary to Georgia, where he remained about two years. Shortly after his return in 1738, he commenced field-preaching, occasionally travelling through every part of Great Britain and Ireland, where he established congregations of Methodists. Thousands flocked to his standard. The grand doctrine of Wesley was universal redemption, as contradistinguished from the Calvinistic doctrine of particular redemption, and his proselytes were, by the act of conversion, made regenerate men. The Methodists also received lay converts as preachers, who, by their itinerant ministrations and unquenchable enthusiasm, contributed materially to the extension of their societies. Wesley continued writing, preaching, and travelling, till he was eighty-eight years of age; his apostolic earnestness and venerable appearance procured for him everywhere profound respect. He had preached about forty thousand sermons, and travelled three hundred thousand miles. His highly useful and laborious career was terminated on the 2d of March 1791. His body lay in a kind of state in his chapel at London the day previous to his interment, dressed in his clerical habit, with gown, cassock, and band; the old clerical cap on his head, a Bible in one hand, and a white handkerchief in the other. The funeral service was read by one of his old preachers. "When he came to that part of the service, 'forasmuch as it hath pleased God to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother,' his voice changed, and he substituted the word 'father;' and the feeling with which he did this was such, that the congregation, who were shedding silent tears, burst at once into loud weeping." At the time of Wesley's death, the number of Methodists in Europe, America, and the West India islands, was 80,000: they are now above a million — three hundred thousand of which are in Great Britain and Ireland. The writings and journals of Wesley are very voluminous, but he cannot be said to have produced any one valuable work in divinity or general literature.