At the United Methodist Women meeting at our church this evening Betty made a presentation on John Wesley’s time in Georgia. A young Anglican priest fresh out of Oxford, John served in the colony for less than two years. The time was a disaster for John: the rigidity of his personality put him in intense conflict with the people to whom he was supposed to be ministering. On top of that John fell in love for the first time in his life. Having reached his early 30s without ever being afflicted with such affections, John struggled to come to terms with his feelings about a certain young woman, which seemed to him to be in conflict with his desire to give his life in total service to God. At one point in great agitation John put three pieces of paper into a hat. One said “marry,” the other said, “speak of her no more,” and the other, “put it off a year.” From the hat he drew forth the one that said “speak of her no more.” Attempting to follow the divine directive he understood he had received, John broke off the relationship, but alas, his feelings of enchantment continued. In the meantime the young woman got fed up waiting for John (can you blame her?) and decided to marry another suitor, eloping with him to a nearby town where the local Anglican priest there was willing to perform a quickie wedding ceremony. When he found out about this, John was incensed. He called into question the priest’s authority to perform the wedding, declared the marriage null and void, and accused the young woman of living in sin. The enraged husband filed lawsuits against John for defamation of character.
Before the trial came to court, John snuck out of town, catching a boat back to England. broken man who doubted at this point whether there was any faith within himself at all, John was amazed to undergo a spiritual new birth a year later in 1738 when he went reluctantly one evening to a prayer meeting on a street called Aldersgate and experienced at a quarter to nine his “heart strangely warmed.” Finally, it seemed, he really got on an experiential level what this whole Christianity thing was about. Abject failure though he was, he discovered Jesus’ love for him big time. The rigidity of her disciplined personality didn’t altogether disappear, but with his heart warmed he loosened up considerably. God proceeded to accomplish a great deal of wonderful stuff through this rather peculiar man.
A year later John would undertake leadership of a revival movement that was reaching out to the working poor of England, a class of people who were being crushed under the wheels of the Industrial Revolution. He would devote the remaining fifty years of his life to guiding what would become known as the Methodist Movement. Extraordinary great good was accomplished through this movement. Tens of thousands of people were led into an experience of Christ’s great love, precipitating nothing less than a new birth in their lives. Afterwards these new born souls would experience long term nurture towards sanctification in the small group class meetings that John organized. These meetings were, in a very real sense, the precursor of AA meetings, providing a setting where grace could be experienced and lives could undergo liberation and transformation.
John Wesley never would find happiness in marriage. At one point he became enamored with a woman who nursed him back to health when he was sick, but his brother Charles persuaded him not to marry her. (Charles himself did happily marry and brought forth eight children into this world.) Apparently John did okay as long as he was able to keep moving forward, but every time his body failed him and he found himself in the position of being cared for by a woman, the old longings for a woman’s companionship would overtake him. Later John may have married another woman who played for a time the role of his nursemate, but the relationship was evidently another disaster. As you might expect, the woman wasn’t too happy with the fact that John was perpetually on the road saving the world.