John Wesley’s legacy stands today through the large selection of hymns, writings, sermons and even the continuation of Methodism, the sect of Christian pietists that originated with Wesley. However, whenever I drive by a Methodist church I have often wondered what Wesley was really like and what happened.
This is why I was excited to find out that Banner of Truth put out a biography of Wesley by Iain Murray. I was curious to open this book and see how a Reformed guy like Murray would portray the life of a noted Arminian like John Wesley. I was impressed with Murray’s attention to the facts and seemingly balanced interaction with Wesly’s life.
Wesley was indeed no friend of Calvinism. In fact he said of the Reformed theology, “Calvinism is the enemy.” And even further, that Calvinism was “thrown our way by Satan.” Murray helpfully points out that it was John’s mother, Susanna, who really helped forge his theological views. It was Susanna who repeatedly corresponded with her son articulating her resistance to the doctrines of grace.
Wesley took to the open fields as a response to the dissatisfaction of the church of England. He had traveled to America as a missionary to the Indians. It was during this trip that Wesley believed that he was converted. This season in 1738 is repeatedly referred to by Wesley as his conversion time.
During his younger years George Whitfield spent a considerable time with Wesley. Their relationship was extremely close and this was exemplified by the care with which they corresponded by letter. Their differences lied primarily in the doctrines of grace, and each of them, Whitfield and Wesley became somewhat of a public spokesman for their respective views. The differences between Wesley and Whitfield (and others such as Augustus Toplady) are extremely interesting to read.
Murray also provides a detailed chapter on Wesley’s views on Justification, Sanctification, and the relationship between the Holy Spirit and Scripture.
At the end of the day you have to acknowledge Wesley’s seemingly good motives to promote the gospel to the ends of the earth. However, it is instructive to note that the movement was not built primarily on sound biblical interpretation and application but rather leaned heavily on subjectivity. I recommend reading this book to see the necessity to contend for clarity with the gospel and to ensure that we are grounded in and on the unchanging Word of God.
You may read more about this book or pick up your discounted copy at Westminster Books.