Each child, including the girls, was taught to read as soon as they could walk and talk. They were expected to become proficient in Latin and Greek and to have learned major portions of the New Testament by heart. Susanna Wesley examined each child before the midday meal and before evening prayers.
The children were not allowed to eat between meals and were interviewed singly by their mother one evening each week for the purpose of intensive spiritual instruction. In , at age 11, Wesley was sent to the Charterhouse School in London under the mastership of John King from , where he lived the studious, methodical and, for a while, religious life in which he had been trained at home.
Apart from his disciplined upbringing, a rectory fire which occurred on 9 February , when Wesley was five years old, left an indelible impression. Sparks falling on the children's beds and cries of "fire" from the street roused the Wesleys who managed to shepherd all their children out of the house except for John who was left stranded on an upper floor. Wesley later used the phrase, "a brand plucked out of the fire", quoting Zechariah , to describe the incident. He was ordained a deacon on 25 September — holy orders being a necessary step toward becoming a fellow and tutor at the university.
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The reading of William Law 's Christian Perfection and A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life gave him, he said, a more sublime view of the law of God; and he resolved to keep it, inwardly and outwardly, as sacredly as possible, believing that in obedience he would find salvation. He began to seek after holiness of heart and life. This carried with it the right to a room at the college and regular salary.
While continuing his studies, he taught Greek , lectured on the New Testament and moderated daily disputations at the university. However, a call to ministry intruded upon his academic career.
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In August , after completing his Master's degree , Wesley returned to Epworth. His father had requested his assistance in serving the neighbouring cure of Wroot. Ordained a priest on 22 September , Wesley served as a parish curate for two years. He returned to Oxford in November at the request of the Rector of Lincoln College and to maintain his status as junior fellow.
During Wesley's absence, his younger brother Charles —88 matriculated at Christ Church. Along with two fellow students, he formed a small club for the purpose of study and the pursuit of a devout Christian life. On Wesley's return, he became the leader of the group which increased somewhat in number and greatly in commitment. The group met daily from six until nine for prayer, psalms , and reading of the Greek New Testament. They prayed every waking hour for several minutes and each day for a special virtue. While the church's prescribed attendance was only three times a year, they took Communion every Sunday.
They fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays until three o'clock as was commonly observed in the ancient church. They preached, educated, and relieved jailed debtors whenever possible, and cared for the sick. Given the low ebb of spirituality in Oxford at that time, it was not surprising that Wesley's group provoked a negative reaction. They were considered to be religious "enthusiasts", which in the context of the time meant religious fanatics. University wits styled them the "Holy Club", a title of derision.
Currents of opposition became a furore following the mental breakdown and death of a group member, William Morgan. In the same letter, which was widely circulated, Wesley referred to the name "Methodist" with which "some of our neighbors are pleased to compliment us. For all of his outward piety , Wesley sought to cultivate his inner holiness or at least his sincerity as evidence of being a true Christian. A list of "General Questions" which he developed in evolved into an elaborate grid by in which he recorded his daily activities hour-by-hour, resolutions he had broken or kept, and ranked his hourly "temper of devotion" on a scale of 1 to 9.
Wesley also regarded the contempt with which he and his group were held to be a mark of a true Christian. As he put it in a letter to his father, "Till he be thus contemned, no man is in a state of salvation. On 14 October , Wesley and his brother Charles sailed on The Simmonds from Gravesend in Kent for Savannah in the Province of Georgia in the American colonies at the request of James Oglethorpe , who had founded the colony in on behalf of the Trustees for the Establishment of the Colony of Georgia in America.
Oglethorpe wanted Wesley to be the minister of the newly formed Savannah parish, a new town laid out in accordance with the famous Oglethorpe Plan. It was on the voyage to the colonies that the Wesleys first came into contact with Moravian settlers. Wesley was influenced by their deep faith and spirituality rooted in pietism.
At one point in the voyage a storm came up and broke the mast off the ship. While the English panicked, the Moravians calmly sang hymns and prayed. This experience led Wesley to believe that the Moravians possessed an inner strength which he lacked.
Wesley arrived in the colony in February He approached the Georgia mission as a High churchman , seeing it as an opportunity to revive " primitive Christianity " in a primitive environment. Although his primary goal was to evangelize the Native Americans, a shortage of clergy in the colony largely limited his ministry to European settlers in Savannah.
While his ministry has often been judged to have been a failure in comparison to his later success as a leader in the Evangelical Revival, Wesley gathered around him a group of devoted Christians who met in a number of small group religious societies. At the same time, attendance at church services and Communion increased over the course of nearly two years in which he served as Savannah's parish priest.
Nonetheless, Wesley's High Church ministry was controversial among the colonists and it ended in disappointment after Wesley fell in love with a young woman named Sophia Hopkey. He hesitated to marry her because he felt that his first priority in Georgia was to be a missionary to the Indigenous Americans, and he was interested in the practice of clerical celibacy within the early Christianity.
In strictly applying the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer , Wesley denied her Communion after she failed to signify to him in advance her intention of taking it. As a result, legal proceedings against him ensued in which a clear resolution seemed unlikely. In December , Wesley fled the colony and returned to England.
It has been widely recognised that one of the most significant accomplishments of Wesley's Georgia mission was his publication of a Collection of Psalms and Hymns. The Collection was the first Anglican hymnal published in America, and the first of many hymn-books Wesley published.
It included five hymns he translated from German. Wesley returned to England depressed and beaten. It was at this point that he turned to the Moravians. Both he and Charles received counsel from the young Moravian missionary Peter Boehler , who was temporarily in England awaiting permission to depart for Georgia himself. Wesley's noted "Aldersgate experience" of 24 May , at a Moravian meeting in Aldersgate Street , London, in which he heard a reading of Martin Luther 's preface to the Epistle to the Romans , revolutionised the character and method of his ministry.
Earlier that day, he had heard the choir at St Paul's Cathedral singing Psalm , where the Psalmist calls to God "Out of the depths. But it was still a depressed Wesley who attended a service on the evening of 24 May. Wesley recounted his Aldersgate experience in his journal:. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, 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.
A few weeks later, Wesley preached a sermon on the doctrine of personal salvation by faith,  which was followed by another, on God's grace "free in all, and free for all. Burnett writes: "The significance of Wesley's Aldersgate Experience is monumental … Without it the names of Wesley and Methodism would likely be nothing more than obscure footnotes in the pages of church history. Wesley allied himself with the Moravian society in Fetter Lane.
In he went to Herrnhut , the Moravian headquarters in Germany, to study. Wesley's Oxford friend, the evangelist George Whitefield , was also excluded from the churches of Bristol upon his return from America. Going to the neighbouring village of Kingswood , in February , Whitefield preached in the open air to a company of miners. Wesley hesitated to accept Whitefield's call to copy this bold step. Overcoming his scruples, he preached the first time at Whitefield's invitation sermon in the open air , near Bristol, in April Wesley wrote,.
I could scarce reconcile myself to this strange way of preaching in the fields, of which he [Whitefield] set me an example on Sunday; having been all my life till very lately so tenacious of every point relating to decency and order, that I should have thought the saving of souls almost a sin if it had not been done in a church.
Wesley was unhappy about the idea of field preaching as he believed Anglican liturgy had much to offer in its practice. Earlier in his life he would have thought that such a method of saving souls was "almost a sin. From then on he took the opportunities to preach wherever an assembly could be brought together, more than once using his father's tombstone at Epworth as a pulpit.
Late in Wesley broke with the Moravians in London. Wesley had helped them organise the Fetter Lane Society , and those converted by his preaching and that of his brother and Whitefield had become members of their bands. But he believed they fell into heresy by supporting quietism , so he decided to form his own followers into a separate society.
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From onward, Wesley and the Methodists were persecuted by clergy and magistrates for various reasons. And for his own part, Wesley flouted many regulations of the Church of England concerning parish boundaries and who had authority to preach. Clergy attacked them in sermons and in print, and at times mobs attacked them. Wesley and his followers continued to work among the neglected and needy.
They were denounced as promulgators of strange doctrines, fomenters of religious disturbances; as blind fanatics, leading people astray, claiming miraculous gifts, attacking the clergy of the Church of England, and trying to re-establish Catholicism. Wesley felt that the church failed to call sinners to repentance , that many of the clergy were corrupt, and that people were perishing in their sins. He believed he was commissioned by God to bring about revival in the church, and no opposition, persecution, or obstacles could prevail against the divine urgency and authority of this commission.
The prejudices of his high-church training, his strict notions of the methods and proprieties of public worship, his views of the apostolic succession and the prerogatives of the priest, even his most cherished convictions, were not allowed to stand in the way.