The Conversion of John Wesley – at 34

One of my historical, or literary, mentors is John Wesley the great revivalist of the eighteenth century and the founder of Methodism.

Wesley grew up in a Christian home, the fifteenth child of Samuel Wesley and his wife Susanna Annesley.  (Samuel and Susanna had nineteen children, of which nine died as infants and four were twins.)  Wesley’s father was a poet and pastor and his mother was particularly devoted, daily committing quality time with each of her children. Wesley attended seminary at Oxford and served as deacon in his father’s church.  Eventually, at the age of thirty-two Wesley decided to serve as a missionary to the Americas.  James Hutton, an acquaintance saw him off when he sailed to Georgia and corresponded with him after he reached America.  Wesley related how a group of Moravians sailing on the same ship sang hymns of praise in the midst of a great storm and how they answered those who asked whether they were afraid,  “We are neither afraid for ourselves nor for our children.”  Hutton in his book relates scenes of the Moravians, after they arrived in Savannah Georgia, felling timber, constructing houses, preaching to the Indians, and holding a song meeting all to the amazement and delight of John Wesley.

Hutton also describes the influence of these Moravians continued to have on John Wesley, “He talked much with the learned August Gottlieb Spangenberg, after he arrived in Georgia.

“My brother,” said Spangenberg to Wesley, “Do you know Jesus Christ?”

“I know,” replied Wesley,  “that Jesus Christ died for my sins.”

“That’s not what I asked you,” pursued Spangenberg, pressing the question further home,

“Do you know Jesus Christ?”  “I hope He has died to save me,” stammered Wesley.

“Do you know yourself?” persisted Spangenberg, who was not content with skin-deep work.

“No,” replied Wesley, and added, “I long to know Jesus Christ.” And Wesley stumbled on as dazed as ever.

“I went to America to convert the Indians,” he wrote, bitterly, in his Journal, on his way home to England; “but oh, who shall convert me?  I have a fair summer religion. I can talk well; nay, and I believe myself, when no danger is near. But let death look me in the face, and my spirit is troubled. Nor can I say, ‘to die is gain.’ I have a sort of fear that when I have spun my last thread I shall perish on the shore. I have learned that I who went to America to convert others was not converted myself.”[1]

The Moravian Peter Bohler was leading a bible study in London’s Fetter Lane. A historian writes, ‘Charles [Wesley, John’s brother] and John were in almost daily contact with Bohler.’

Peter Boehler said one day to John Wesley, “My brother, my brother, that philosophy of yours must be purged away.”

When John Wesley complained, “Ah, how can I preach the faith which I have not got?”

Peter Boehler answered, “Preach faith till you have it, and then, because you have it, you will preach it.”

“’In the evening,’ says Wesley, ‘I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to [his commentary on] Romans.  About a quarter before nine while he was describing the change God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed.  I felt I did trust in 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.’”[2]

Finally, John Wesley got his breakthrough.  He had already discussed justification by faith with Peter Bohler, but this was different.

At 34 years of age he was finally born again.

After this Wesley followed Whitefield’s example and began preaching both justification by faith and the new birth in the churches. And one by one, the Anglican church leaders resisted him.

It wasn’t long before these newly converted ‘Methodists’, George Whitefield and John and Charles Wesley, began to gather others together to seek God for greater blessings.

Although the Wesleys and Whitefield parted ways (Whitefield was a Calvinist and the Wesleys Arminian), over the next 40 years these men would literally change the world.  It’s never too late…


[1] J.E. Hutton, A Short History of the Moravian Church (London: Moravian Publication Office, 1895), p. 189.

[2]. John Wesley Journal, May 24th 1738, Vol. 1. p.103.

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