March 3: John and Charles Wesley, Priests, 1791, 1788

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

 

John (left) and Charles Wesley

John was the fifteenth, and Charles the eighteenth, child of Samuel Wesley, Rector of Epworth, Lincolnshire. John was born June 17, 1703, and Charles, December 18, 1707.

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 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 it.

Both Wesleys 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.

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.” So the 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—but John’s uncanonical ordinations of “elders” for America (bitterly opposed by Charles) doubtless set the basis for it.

Collects

I     Lord God, who didst inspire thy servants John and Charles Wesley with burning zeal for the sanctification of souls, and didst endow them with eloquence in speech and song: Kindle in thy Church, we beseech thee, such fervor, that those whose faith has cooled may be warmed, and that those who have not known thy Christ may turn to him and be saved; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

II     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.

Lessons

Isaiah 49: 5-6

Romans 12: 11-17

Luke 9: 2-6

Psalm 103: 1-4, 13-18

Preface of Pentecost

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

* * *

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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17 Responses to March 3: John and Charles Wesley, Priests, 1791, 1788

  1. Michael Hartney says:

    Bio. They need a ‘who are they’ and ‘why are they important’ statement.
    This bio contains great information regarding their birth dates and the dates of their deaths. That is so different from other commemorations and is to be commended.

    4th paragraph: Perhaps the last sentence could read: ‘John and Charles were ordained priests in 1728 and 1735, respectively.’

  2. Bruce Alan Wilson says:

    My understanding was that when various bishops objected to the brothers preaching in diocese where they weren’t licensed, they told the bishops to go sit on their mitres.

  3. Steve Lusk says:

    “Schism” seems an awfully harsh word to describe the emergence of the Methodists as an independent denomination. The Methodists’ own account of the split is much gentler (see http://www.umc.org/site/apps/nlnet/content.aspx?c=lwL4KnN1LtH&b=5399351&ct=6470771&notoc=1).
    How about something like “The Methodists did not become a separate denomination until after . . . “?

  4. Cynthia Gilliatt says:

    I agree with Steve Lusk – ‘schism’ is too harsh. And we are, after all, in relationship with the Methodists. Every Sunday we remember them and our other ecumenical friends in the Prayers of the People.

  5. Celinda Scott says:

    Some who opposed to the break warned that the new denomination wouldn’t last more than a generation, if that. I haven’t heard ACNA draw any parallels with their own break and its chances for survival.

  6. Stacy Alan says:

    As I was reading this bio as part of today’s Eucharist (accompanied, of course, by as many of Wesley’s hymns as would fit into a midday service), I nearly choked at the first sentence. Was Susanna, Samuel’s wife and the mother of all 19 of his children, not worthy of mention? Samuel, despite not writing much of note, has his parish included, but Susanna, who had a profound and documented influence on the spiritual development of her children, doesn’t even get named. Really?

    • John LaVoe says:

      Stacy, In my old copy of LFF, at the end of the first paragraph, I have noted, “4-1/2 years and 3 children later!” I also have a clipping tucked in that page from “Bicentennial Calendar of American Methodism, copyright 1983, Abingdon Press, used by permission” that says, “1742, Susanna Wesley died in London with all her family at her bedside. Just before she lapsed into unconsciousness, she said, ‘Children, as soon as I am released sing a Psalm of praise to God.’ She is remembered for the determination with which she educated her children. Six hours of instruction a day began and ended with the singing of Psalms. So great was she that Adam Clarke said he had ‘never seen, heard, or read of her equal.'” I agree with you — she deserves mention!

  7. John LaVoe says:

    I think we miss the boat when our “we/us” prayers don’t include others, and equally, when our “they/them” prayers (for others) don’t consider how we, too, need God and God’s grace. Today’s collect — especially the petition — is a good (bad) example:

    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 (JFL: THOSE OTHER PEOPLE, UNLIKE US PRE-SANCTIFIED FOLKS) whose faith has cooled may be warmed, and those (THOSE OTHER PEOPLE, UNLIKE US) 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.

    I realize we don’t CONSCIOUSLY think this way in the third person, to the exclusion of the speaker, but if it slips out in our formulations of prayer, it raises a flag on it’s being there below the conscious level just the same.

    • John LaVoe says:

      I don’t mean the above comment to imply that fixing pronouns will fix the collect. But I just wrote a whole detailed subsequent comment, and the computer made it disappear when I tried to send it. Very funny, Lord. Good night.

  8. Sarah V. Lewis says:

    John, This modification of the collect might work:

    Lord God, you inspired your servants John & Charles Wesley with burning zeal for the sanctification of souls & endowed them with eloquence in speech & song: Kindle* in your Church, we entreat you, such fervor, that all whose faith has cooled may be warmed, & any who have not known Christ may turn to him & be saved; who lives & reigns with you & the Holy Spirit, one God, now & for ever. Amen.

    *Exists there an alternative, non Amizonian, word for Kindle?

  9. George Crump says:

    “Wesley did not set out to create a new church, but instead began several small faith-restoration groups within the Anglican church called the “United Societies.” Soon however, Methodism spread and eventually became its own separate religion when the first conference was held in 1744.”

    The above statement comes for a History of the Methodist Church.
    The Methodist Church must have existed before John and Charles died, at least in America,even though they died Anglicans. Maybe the Bio should just state that and leave out the history of the Methodist Church.

    And why the 3rd of March? Not their birthday, nor the anniversary of their death.
    And I agree with Stacy Alan, their mother deserves more mention, if not her own day of recognition. Alas, it is the woman behind everything that is always getting left out and forgotten.

  10. John LaVoe says:

    John and Charles Wesley
    .
    Paragraphs 1 & 2: The lead sentence of paragraph 2 seems self evident from the rest of the write-up (I’d delete it and combine the two paragraphs into one).
    .
    Paragraph 2: Is there a justification for the upper case on “Churches”?
    .
    Paragraph 3: “Although” diminishes their writings. Omit “although,” divide the sentence in two, and add them to the combined preceding paragraph:
    “Their theological writings and sermons are still widely appreciated. Their hymns, especially those of Charles who wrote over six thousand of them — and their religious experience, Christian faith and life, continue to affect the hearts of many.”
    : Move the sentence about their attachment to the C of E to the end of present paragraph 4, creating the sequence: education/ develop Prayer Book following/ ordination dates/ attachment to C of E despite abuse. (Some explanation of the nature of the abuse is called for and should be added.)
    .
    Paragraph 5 is a fact with no consequence explained. It’s worth saying, but it calls for some mention of its import.
    .
    Paragraph 6 contains a sentence that makes no sense, even in LFF:
    .
    “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.”
    .
    How can they go to the same meeting, experience their inner conversion DURING a reading of something, and yet be said to experience their conversion on two separate days? “During” doesn’t usually mean “three days later.”
    .
    I love the “heart warming” quote and the remainder of the write-up, BUT it focuses only on the Wesleys’ devotional life, in negligent silence regarding the social crisis of the impoverished urban masses of industrial workers vis-à-vis the inert resistance of the C of E failing to adjust and extend ministry to adequately address the severe circumstances of masses of lower class working poor, struggling in the socio-economic atrocity that took shape at that time. This is a big part of the Wesleys’ focus, commitment, motivation, successes, timeliness, appeal, opposition, and abuse. I can’t imagine leaving it out.
    .
    READINGS:
    OT – pathetic. Two verses, and the wrong ones! The Wesleys, even for Methodists, are not the messiah! The write-up lacks all context that would allow understanding this passage in a meaningful way. Please find something better! (Consider Gen 18:16-33, “Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city….”)
    .
    Psalm 103 verses are apropos, and the selected verses do not change the gist of the whole.
    .
    The Romans selection, while not inappropriate, comes across with no real “teeth” –a list of aphorisms, or a membership code for the homeowners’ association (there is nothing specifically Christian in it). James 2:1-9 (“if you show partiality, you commit sin”) might reach a bit further below the skin, although verse 1 is the only specifically Christian verse there, too.
    .
    The gospel passage breathes the air of evangelism and mission, but has nothing resonant with the working poor. Luke’s beatitudes passage would be better (Luke 6:17-28 +/-).
    .
    COLLECT: Form is not problematic, but certain preconceptions in its thinking do not set well.
    (1) I already mentioned the “help THOSE people” language (in its “so that” section).
    (2) It recounts God’s extraordinary goodness to the Wesleys, then asks God to do the same extraordinary favors for his Church (why an upper case letter?) so as to warm over the cooled faith of some, and bring non-believers to Christ.
    It would be better to start by affirming God’s good purpose for ALL (or thanking God for effecting that in part through the Wesleys), asking that all the baptized may carry our share of that divine work, “so that” all may be brought close to God’s help, delivered from obstacles, and empowered to live the holy and loving pattern seen and known through Jesus Christ. (Mention of affective states, or particular categories of need, are secondary, distracting, and discouraged.)

  11. Celinda Scott says:

    John: thanks so much for this. I hope the gist of it will be added to the biography. “……. (the bio) focuses only on the Wesleys’ devotional life, in negligent silence regarding the social crisis of the impoverished urban masses of industrial workers vis-à-vis the inert resistance of the C of E failing to adjust and extend ministry to adequately address the severe circumstances of masses of lower class working poor, struggling in the socio-economic atrocity that took shape at that time. This is a big part of the Wesleys’ focus, commitment, motivation, successes, timeliness, appeal, opposition, and abuse. I can’t imagine leaving it out.”

  12. George Crump says:

    I totally agree with Celinda Scott. Mention of this work and motivation needs to be acknowledged.

  13. Nigel Renton says:

    Another inadequate subtitle! That they were priests is not why they are listed here. I suggest “Revivalists and Hymnists” would tell us more.

    Line 6, third paragraph: this awkward sentence needs another comma after “of”, but that would be clumsy. I suggest substituting “loving confidence in it” for “confidence in, and love of it”.

    Line 1, fourth paragraph: add “, John later being elected a fellow of Lincoln College” after “Oxford”. (Visitors to Oxford will find the “Wesley Room” set apart at Lincoln College, with memorabilia of its famous former occupant.)

    Line 3, sixth paragraph: add “,London,” after “Aldersgate”.

    Line 2, seventh paragraph: add “in London” after “death”.

  14. Pingback: March 3 – John & Charles Wesley : St. Paul's Episcopal Church

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