Collection 031 Ephemera of John Wesley
Scope and Contents
Collection contains one handwritten letter by Wesley composed during a London visit in October 1782. There are also a couple of newspaper clippings including a description of Wesley's life at Aldersgate and the text of another letter from the evangelist. A scrapbook of clippings (available to researchers on microfilm) from the centennial commemoration of Wesley's death contains articles, poetry, sermons, and illustrations by and about him. The clippings were out of newspapers from all over the British Isles and relate many anecdotes from the lives of John Wesley and his brother, Charles.
- Created: 1782; 1889-1902; 1938
Conditions Governing Access
There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.
John Wesley was the fifteenth of nineteen children born to Samuel and Susan Wesley on June 28, 1703, at Epworth in England. Samuel Wesley was a rector of an Anglican Church; therefore, all his children were given religious instruction. Education and study were encouraged by both his parents. He attended Charterhouse School and Christ Church at Oxford. Philosophy, theology, classics and language were all part of his curriculum. He even taught some Greek classes for the undergraduates. While at Oxford, Wesley's younger brother Charles began a group called the "Holy Club". The group met often for prayer, fasting, discussion, and active sharing of the gospel of Christ. Because of their methodical activities the society was nicknamed Methodists. Both Wesleys became leaders of the group.
After their father's death in April 1735, the two Wesley brothers sailed for the Georgia colony in America to work among the Indians. The work in Georgia was not successful. Wesley's strict attitudes were offensive to many and his refusal to administer communion to one of the colonists destroyed his usefulness. While in Georgia he did serve a small congregation in Savannah. This brief pastoral experience was to have a great influence later on the formation of Methodist practices. He was also impressed while in America with the work of Moravian missionaries.
Returning to England in February 1738, Wesley made several unsuccessful attempts at preaching. In a state of deep dejection, after reading the book of Romans he later wrote, "I felt my heart strangely warmed." For the rest of his life he felt that that moment marked his conversion. Soon he began his great preaching ministry, speaking wherever he was allowed - homes, churches, or hillsides. He even preached from his father's tombstone when the parish leaders refused to allow him in the church building.
Societies were formed in many areas where Wesley preached including England, Scotland, Ireland, and Holland. At first he tried to visit each group at least once every three months; however, the tremendous growth in numbers made this impossible. In 1743 a group of "General Rules" for the societies was published. Later in 1744 a meeting in London discussed doctrinal matters and procedures. The same format of discussion is used today in governing the Methodist Church.
With increased numbers other considerations had to be made for the leadership of the societies. Men were ordained, circuits defined, and schedules prepared to organize and provide a stable foundation for the growth of Wesley's movement. In 1784 he filed for a Deed in Chancery Court giving "The Conference" full legal status. Provisions were made by Wesley to make the group self-governing and self-perpetuating after his death.
Wesley ordained Richard Whatcoat and Thomas Vasey for work among American Methodists in 1784 after the final breach with the Church of England. Thomas Coke was made "superintendent" of the American work but later took the title of "bishop." Coke later ordained Francis Asbury providing a great leader for American Methodism.
The preacher also penned many hymns and books such as Appeals to Men of Reason and Religion, Journal, Sermons, and Explanatory Notes on the New Testament.
Wesley married Mary Vazeillejin, a widow, in 1751. The marriage proved to be a poor one and she finally left him twenty-five years later.
Wesley died in his home on City Road, London, on May 2, 1791, after a very brief illness. He was buried in the cemetery behind City Road Chapel across the street from the grave of his mother, Susanna Wesley.
0.50 Cubic Feet (1 box (Flat Storage Container, .5 Cubic Feet), Microfilm)
Language of Materials
Accruals and Additions
Materials in this collection were received by the Billy Graham Center Archives in September 1977, November 1979, and February 1980.
Accession 77-21, 79-137, 80-31
June 27, 1980
Mary Ann Buffington
- Collection 031 Ephemera of John Wesley
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