“You must be born again.” John 3:3
John Wesley (1703-1791) was the fifteenth of nineteen children of Samuel and Susannah Wesley. His dad was an Anglican preacher and poet, but John took mostly after his mom. Susannah believed in discipline, though rigidly maintained, it was never the cruel discipline of a tyrant. The methodical way of living Susannah taught was the same intentional way John would train his disciples in the years to come.
On May 24, 1738, Wesley went to a meeting on Aldersgate Street in London, England where his life would be forever changed. Although he grew up in a godly home and had earnestly pursued God for thirteen years (he began a group known as the “Holy Club” at Oxford), he had no assurance of being right with God. That night, as Luther’s Preface to Romans was read, he felt his heart “strangely warmed,” and for the first time knew that Jesus was his Savior (not just the Savior of the world), and that his sins were forgiven.
He was so excited about being born again that this became his central message. After reading Jonathan Edwards’ account of revival in Northampton, the same types of conversions started happening in his meetings. Then his friend from the Holy Club, George Whitefield, invited him to come to Bristol where thousands were gathering in the fields to hear him preach. Whitefield needed to move on but didn’t want to abandon all the new converts. “Would Wesley take over for him?”
In a time when “enthusiasm” was frowned upon in church circles, Wesley found that wherever he went people were dramatically and often emotionally converted. He recorded that, while preaching on the text that it’s God’s will for all to be saved (2Peter 3:9), one after another would sink to the earth, “They dropped on every side as if thunderstruck.” At other times there would be a “curious prevalence of uncontrollable laughter accompanied by a shocking violence of movement.” The experiences were followed, as a rule, “by a state of religious well-being, of happiness and composure, nor was there any difficulty in resuming the business of ordinary life.”
It is estimated that John Wesley road on horseback a total of 400,000 miles between 1738-1790. He preached at least twice a day; often three or four times, and gave over 40,000 sermons in his lifetime. In England he established 240 circuits with an attendance of over 240,000, and in America he had 114 circuits with an attendance of over 57,000. He was the apostolic organizer of the first great awakening in America and his efforts are still bearing fruit today.