Today is the birthday (1703) of John Wesley, an English cleric, theologian and evangelist who was a leader of a revival movement within the Church of England known as Methodism. The societies he founded became the dominant form of the independent Methodist movement that continues to this day. I have already celebrated his younger brother Charles here: https://www.bookofdaystales.com/charles-wesley/ . Charles and John often disagreed theologically, but, in the end, John’s Methodism prevailed and Charles’s contribution to the church is now more in his hymnody than in his doctrinal views.
Wesley attended Charterhouse and Christ Church College, Oxford, and was elected a fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford in 1726. He was ordained as an Anglican priest two years later. He led the “Holy Club”, a society formed for the purpose of the study and the pursuit of a devout Christian life. It had been founded by his brother, Charles, and counted George Whitefield among its members. After an unsuccessful ministry of two years at Savannah, serving at Christ Church, in the Georgia Colony, Wesley returned to London and joined a religious society led by Moravian Christians. On 24th May 1738, he experienced what has come to be called his evangelical conversion. He describes the experience as follows:
In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, 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.
A few weeks later, Wesley preached a sermon on the doctrine of personal salvation by faith, which was followed by another, on God’s grace “free in all, and free for all.” Considered a pivotal moment, Daniel L. Burnett writes: “The significance of Wesley’s Aldersgate Experience is monumental. Without it the names of Wesley and Methodism would likely be nothing more than obscure footnotes in the pages of church history.” Burnett describes this event Wesley’s “Evangelical Conversion.” It is commemorated in Methodist churches as Aldersgate Day.
A key step in the development of Wesley’s ministry was, like Whitefield, to travel and preach outdoors. In contrast to Whitefield’s Calvinism, Wesley embraced Arminian doctrines. Moving across Great Britain and Ireland, he helped form and organize small Christian groups that developed intensive and personal accountability, discipleship and religious instruction. He appointed itinerant, unordained evangelists to care for these groups of people. Under Wesley’s direction, Methodists became leaders in many social issues of the day, including prison reform and the abolition of slavery.
Although he was not a systematic theologian, Wesley argued for the notion of Christian perfection and against Calvinism—and, in particular, against its doctrine of predestination. His evangelicalism, firmly grounded in sacramental theology, maintained that means of grace sometimes had a role in sanctification of the believer. However, he taught that it was by faith a believer was transformed into the likeness of Christ. He held that, in this life, Christians could achieve a state where the love of God “reigned supreme in their hearts”, giving them not only outward but inward holiness. Wesley’s teachings, collectively known as Wesleyan theology, continue to inform the doctrine of Methodist churches.
Throughout his life, Wesley remained within the established Church of England, insisting that the Methodist movement lay well within its tradition. In his early ministry, Wesley was barred from preaching in many parish churches and the Methodists were persecuted. He later became widely respected and, by the end of his life, had been described as “the best-loved man in England.”
When I wrote about Charles Wesley, I mentioned “Methodist food” based on my wife’s experiences, and then opted for an 18th century recipe. But . . . there is a famous dish known as Methodist pie, which is celebrated in a well-known country song of the same name:
Well, the recipe is easily available also:
18 graham crackers
¼ lb. butter, melted
2 tbsp sugar
Roll and crush the crackers to crumbs. Mix the sugar and butter together and add the graham cracker crumbs. Mix well. Line a 10-inch pie pan with graham cracker mixture.
1 ¼ lbs cream cheese
3 eggs, beaten
1 pinch salt
¾ cup sugar
1 tsp. lemon juice
Beat the cream cheese thoroughly until fluffy. Add the eggs, sugar and other ingredients. Pour into the crust and bake 20 minutes in a preheated oven at 375°F.
1 pt. sour cream
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
Mix the topping ingredients well. Remove the pie from oven and spoon the topping mixture over it. Glaze the topping in an oven at 475°F for 5 minutes, watching carefully for burning. Chill well before serving.