John Wesley (1)

Just some historical stuff about the heretic John Wesley from Alan C. Clifford’s Atonement and Justification: English Evangelical Theology 1640 — 1790 — An Evaluation:

“No other Christian denomination honours the name of its founder more than the Methodist Church honours him. When the denomination’s new historical society was formed in 1893, it was called the Wesley Historical Society. Indeed, he has become something of a cult figure. J.C. Ryle wrote a century ago, ‘If ever a good Protestant has been practically canonised [sic], it has been John Wesley'” 1 (Clifford, p. 51).

“In a sense Wesley has become the property of the whole church. It is not difficult to find Anglicans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists expressing gratitude and admiration. 5 Bearing in mind the controversial themes being discussed in this book, the eminent Victorian preacher C.H. Spurgeon was surprisingly generous in his praise. His own Baptist and Calvinist convictions notwithstanding, he could declare that ‘The character of John Wesley stands beyond all imputation for self sacrifice, zeal, holiness and communion with God; he lived far above the level of common Christians, and was one of whom the world was not worthy'”6 (Clifford, pp. 51-52).

“The danger is that the towering figure of John Wesley may cause his biographers by lack of perspective to underrate the importance of Whitefield, and likewise that those who write about Whitefield may consciously attempt to restore the balance and, like Shakespeare’s lady, ‘protest too much'” 10 (Clifford, p. 52).

“John Wesley was born at Epworth in Lincolnshire in 1703. He was the fifteenth child and second surviving son of the Revd Samuel Wesley, an Anglican clergyman of the Tillotsonian type” 12 (Clifford, p. 53).

“In his tireless travels throughout the United Kingdom, it is estimated that he journeyed over a quarter of a million miles and preached 40,000 sermons. In eighteenth-century terms, given that roads were primitive and that he had to study on horseback, Wesley’s achievement is phenomenal” (Clifford, p. 56).

“While John Wesley disapproved of the American revolution of 1776, he was utterly opposed to slavery. After preaching his final open-air sermon at Letterhead, Surrey on 23 February 1791, he wrote his final letter the next day to William Wilberforce, 36 encouraging him in the fight against slavery. After more than fifty years’ labour as evangelist, author, and organizer and leader of the Methodist movement, he died on 2 March 1791. He summed up the abiding conviction of his life on his deathbed: ‘The best of all is, God is with us!'” 37 (Clifford, p. 57).


1. Christian Leaders of the Last Century (London, 1885, fac. Edinburgh, 1978), 64.

5. Dean Farrar, when canon of Westminster, wrote generously of one who had been ostracized by the church he loved, ‘I say that even now I do not think we have done sufficient honour to the work Wesley did’ (J. Telford, The Life of John Wesley (London, 1929), 377). Regretting the excessive adulation Wesley has received, J.C. Ryle wrote, ‘Whether we like it or not, John Wesley was a mighty instrument in God’s hand for good; and, next to George Whitefield, was the first and foremost evangelist of England a hundred years ago’ (Christian Leaders, p. 105). The Presbyterian A.H. Drysdale was careful to point out Wesley’s Presbyterian ancestry and his adoption of corresponding views of ordination and church government (The History of the Presbyterians in England (London, 1889), 584, 589). For the Congregationalists, R. W. Dale was happy to acknowledge the debt which the older nonconformity owed to Methodism (see Telford, Life of Wesley, p. 377). For the Baptists, the aged John Clifford wrote in his diary for 9 Aug. 1922, “Reading ‘Wesley’s Journal’ … is one of my most refreshing occupations just now” (James Marchant, Dr John Clifford, CH: Life, Letters and Reminiscences (London, 1924), 265-6).

6. The Early Years (London, 1962), 173. See also id., ‘John Wesley,’ BOT [Banner of Truth–CD] 68 (1969), 15-20; 69 (1969), 43-8; 70-1 (1969), 54-8.

10. ‘George Whitefield after two hundred years’, WHS** 37 (1970), 178-9.
** [proceedings of the Wesley Historical Society–CD]

12. See Samuel Wesley’s eulogy, Poem on the Death of His Grace John, Late Lord Archbishop of Canterbury (London 1695).

36. Letters, viii. 265.

37. Tyerman, Life of Wesley, iii. 654.