John was the fifteenth, and Charles the eighteenth, child of Samuel Wesley, Rector of Epworth, Lincolnshire, and his wife, Susannah. John was born June 17, 1703, and Charles, December 18, 1707. It has been said that the Methodist revival had its foundations in the rectory at Epworth, where the children were under the tutelage and spiritual direction of Susannah and Samuel.
The lives and fortunes of the brothers were closely intertwined. As founders and leaders of the “Methodist” or evangelical revival in eighteenth-century England, their continuing influence redounds throughout the world and is felt in many Churches.
Although their theological writings and sermons are still widely appreciated, it is through their hymns – especially those of Charles, who wrote over six thousand of them – that their religious experience, and their Christian faith and life, continue to affect the hearts and minds of many. Both brothers were profoundly attached to the doctrine and worship of the Church of England; and no amount of abuse and opposition to their cause and methods ever shook their confidence in, and love of, the English Church.
Both the brothers were educated at Christ Church, Oxford. It was there that they gathered a few friends to join in strict adherence to the worship and discipline of the Prayer Book, and were thus given the name “Methodists.” John was ordained in 1728 and Charles in 1735.
The two brothers went together to Georgia in 1735, John as a missionary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and Charles as secretary to James Oglethorpe, the Governor of the colony.
Shortly after their return to England, they both experienced an inner conversion, Charles on May 21, 1738, and John on May 24, at a meeting in Aldersgate Street with a group of Moravians, during a reading of Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. John recorded,
“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.”
And so the Wesleyan revival was born.
The later schism of the Methodists from the Church of England occurred after the death of the two brothers – Charles on March 29, 1788, and John on March 2, 1791 – though John’s uncanonical ordinations of elders for the American Methodist societies (occasioned by the Bishop of London’s refusal to ordain to the presbyterate any Methodist preachers for America, and bitterly opposed by Charles) doubtless set the basis for it.
- Adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts
Lord God, you inspired your servants John and Charles Wesley with burning zeal for the sanctification of souls, and endowed them with eloquence in speech and song: Kindle in your Church, we entreat you, such fervor, that those whose faith has cooled may be warmed, and those who have not known Christ may turn to him and be saved; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The propers for the commemoration of John and Charles Wesley, Priests, are published on the Lectionary Page website.