Born in June 1703, John Wesley was the fifteenth child and second son of the Revd Samuel Wesley, the Anglican Rector of Epworth in Lincolnshire, and his wife, Susanna. He was educated at Charterhouse School in London and at Oxford University.

Ordination

Wesley was ordained as an Anglican deacon (1725) and priest (1728) at Christ Church Cathedral, and became a tutor and Fellow of Lincoln College. He joined like-minded friends in the so-called 'Holy Club', whose disciplined piety attracted the nickname, 'Methodist'.

Spiritual experience

On 24 May, 1738 John Wesley opened his bible at about five in the morning and came across these words: "There are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, even that ye should partakers of the divine nature." That evening he reluctantly attended a meeting in Aldersgate, London. Someone read from Luther's Preface to the Epistle to Romans.

“At about 8:45 p.m., while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed.

I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."

Following his spiritual experience in May 1738, John Wesley began to preach that salvation was available to everyone, and in 1739 a fellow member of the Holy Club turned Methodist preacher, George Whitefield, invited John to start open air preaching in Bristol. There John established the very first Methodist building, called ‘the new room’.

Charles Wesley

Wesley’s brother Charles lived near the ‘new room’ in Bristol. Charles was also an Anglican priest and later became an influential Methodist preacher too, as well as a prolific hymn-writer. His best-known works include the words that became the carol, 'Hark! The Herald-Angels Sing'.

Over 50 years, Wesley is estimated to have travelled 250,000 miles, much of it on horseback, to preach the gospel. He started his work in London in 1739 and eventually built a new London chapel in 1778. He died at Wesley’s Chapel (shown above) on 2 March 1791.