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John Wesley

Conversion is a spontaneous experience which is followed by a long struggle. You can accept Christ as your Savior by your own will.

Who believed these things? It was John Wesley.

John Wesley was born in the early 1700’s being one of 19 children. Being the excel­lent student that he was, John was chosen to go to the Fellow of Lincoln Colleges. However, to be in this school one had to be in the holy orders. There­fore, Wesley was ordained a deacon; three years later a priest in the Episcopal Church of England.

Some time later, after returning to Oxford from helping his father in his parish, John became the leader of the “Holy Club.” The members of this club lived strictly to a certain methodical life-style. Soon the name “Methodists,” that was given to them by other students, stuck.

In 1735 John and his brother Charles set sail for America to help with the missionaries in Geor­gia. John was greatly influenced on this voyage by some Moravians who were also sailing the ocean to America. John saw their great trust in God espe­cially in troubled seas. Seeing their trust was trou­bling to John because he did not have that trust in God. Once at his destination in Georgia, John met the leader of these Moravians. He was confronted by the question, “Do you know that Jesus has saved you?” Wesley was plagued with this question even though he did believe in God.

Three years later, after returning back to En­gland, John experienced his conversion. He explains it as: a warming in his heart and belief that he trusted in Christ alone for salvation. From his con­version John felt that conversion was a matter of specific experience. He believed that one should be able to tell the circumstances, exact time, and place of his conversion.

At this time, the spiritual state of England was one of turmoil. The Anglican and Presbyterian churches became infested with Arminianism. Ser­mons lacked enthusiasm and many churches were apostatizing. Many ministers did not have their hearts in the matters. They were preaching only because it was required of them. Sadly enough, some financially stable ministers paid vicars to do their work. Many clergymen were also involved in drinking and card playing. Drunkenness was among the high and lowly in England. During this time, however, there were some pious people. New hymn books were being written.

It was into this state of the churches of En­gland that John Wesley came. Amidst all of the corruption, small prayer groups called “societies” were formed. Small Bible study groups were formed and a new spirit for religion was cultivated. It was in these societies that John and his brother Charles started preaching.

John Wesley believed in the basic truth of or­thodox Protestantism. He believed and practiced infant baptism. He believed in the deity of Christ, in the miracles, and also practiced the two sacra­ments: Lord’s Supper and Baptism. However, Wesley declared openly that he was Arminian. He opposed Calvinism. Through preaching against the terrible sins of the day he desperately tried to bring sinners to conversion. Being caught up in saving the unchurched he rejected Calvinism. He felt Calvin’s doctrine of predestination and election would turn away those who may have believed. He said that the Calvinistic belief would stifle the call to repentance and conversion. For this he rejected Calvinism and embraced Arminianism with its doctrine of free will by which the people could accept or reject Christ on their own. This is what Wesley preached to his listeners whether they were in the fields or in the churches.

Influenced by George Whitefield, Wesley began preaching in the missionary societies and the open fields. It was here that many unchurched people gathered and where John found his love for preach­ing to the unchurched.

In 1740, Wesley established a Methodist United Society. Anyone who wanted to join could, but he had to be a convert. These new converts were told to go out and bring in more new converts. When the societies began to grow too large, Wesley ac­quired lay preachers. He taught these preachers by books that he wrote since he had no seminary.

Realizing the need to have his lay preachers ordained Wesley sought out the Anglican Church. The Bishops of the Anglican Church wouldn’t or­dain Wesley’s lay preachers, however; so Wesley, being a presbyter himself, took things into his own hands. Believing that bishops and presbyters were of the same order, Wesley ordained the men him­self. This was the breaking of the tie that held him to the Anglican Church.

Wesley’s lay preachers soon became “traveling preachers” by running the “circuit” of societies that were established across England. These men were called traveling preachers because they were only allowed to stay and work in one place for six to eight weeks.

Wesley had different methods of preaching. One way was to reach new unchurched people by preaching to them in the open fields when the church doors were closed to him. In trying to reach the unchurched Wesley opened up yet another method. Instead of preaching and performing pas­toral work in one church, he went to as many as he was able. He invaded other ministers’ parishes. When criticized for this he said, “The world is my parish.” If this wasn’t enough, Wesley added an­other option, which was to have un-ordained men preaching under him. Again, his purpose was to reach unchurched souls. He did however adopt this method reluctantly. But due to a shortage of rightly ordained men he let them preach anyway.

As you can see, Wesley introduced methods into the church that are strictly unbiblical. Focusing on his view of Predestination and Election we can see that he did not find his answers in the Bible. The biblical view of predestination is that God chose unto himself a certain number that He would save through Christ. The remaining souls He would con­demn to hell. Some feel that this view is unfair, but it is the will of God. For God gave, through His grace, salvation unto some and not to others. In Ephesians 2:8-9 we read, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is a gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” By His grace, God brings His people to salvation and leaves the “non-elect in His just judgement to their own wickedness.” (Canons I, Article 6)

All of this is in God’s eternal counsel. What Wesley preached was that men can have God’s sal­vation if they so desire it. He didn’t want to admit that God was righteous and just in electing some and rejecting others. Romans 9:18 says, “There­fore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.” In verse 21 of the same chapter it says, “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour and another unto dishonour.” God is the Potter Who brings some of the human race (the clay) to heaven (honour) and some He will punish in hell (dishonour). Let us take this to heart.

Regarding Wesley’s belief of conversion, we be­lieve that one need not have a conversion experi­ence. Wesley believed that one must have this ex­perience. We do know that to some an experience really is their conversion. Such an example is that of the thief on the cross to whom Jesus said “To­day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.” To prove that one need not have such an experience we look to John the Baptist. John the Baptist was regener­ated in his mother’s womb before he was born. When the expectant Virgin Mary walked into Zacharias and Elizabeth’s home, the baby John leaped in his mother’s womb for he knew that the Lamb of God was present. Another example of this is that of Jacob and Esau in Romans 9:11-13 where we read,

“(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her; The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”

So may we as covenant seed believe the Bible in all its truth of predestination and election as well as all the glorious truth therein. May we not fall away from these truths and believe the her­esies of mere man. May we also continue to con­fess our faith, base our beliefs on the Word of God, and so experience God’s blessings in our lives.

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Melinda is a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church.