As a child, John Wesley was saved from a burning house and his mother told him that he was a “brand plucked from the burning” by God for some great purpose. (See Zechariah 3:2)

In later life he preached to thousands of people, often in the open air, about God’s saving grace. His fire/passion was utterly genuine, and he brought many to a greater understanding of who God is. He travelled more than 4,000 miles a year on horseback to bring the message of God’s love to people.

His life was not easy, but John Wesley insisted that :

“The world is my parish”.

“Untold millions are still untold.”

He and other Methodists were involved in prison ministry too. His own father had spent time in debtors’ prison as he was a poor financial manager, so their plight was close to his heart.

The Priesthood of All Believers

John Wesley believed that we are all called to spread the word of God in our different ways. It is not just the clergy on whom the responsibility falls! This is a motivating doctrine for all of us! (See 1 Peter 2:5)

We are not all given the ability to preach. Some are teachers. Some are priests by example, going out into the community to show their faith. In our church we have one small group who spread the word of the gospel through making beautiful banners that illustrate God’s message

The Role of Women

Methodist women were among the first to be allowed in the pulpit. John Wesley maintained that he learned more about God from his mother, Susanna, than from all the theologians in England (despite his father being a clergyman!). She had nineteen children, only ten of whom survived beyond infancy. In the flurry of a busy household she made time for everyone, including God. When she needed to pray, she would sit down and cover her head with her apron. Her family learned not to disturb her! She taught reading from the Bible and insisted her children also learn Greek and Hebrew.

Personal and social habits of holiness.

People are often amazed that so many Methodists don’t drink, smoke or gamble. They assume that we must adhere to very strict rules! It is a tradition which grew from John Wesley’s experience. 

Being an evangelical preacher John Wesley saw a lot of poverty and pain in the community. This was not helped by the drinking and gambling habits of people who could barely feed their families anyway. He encouraged abstinence. It isn’t a theological rule, but respecting his point of view, many of us still avoid alcohol and gambling, and prove again that they are not necessary to our happiness!

John Wesley believed in the importance of “Social Holiness”. In his preface to the 1739 hymnal he wrote that “the gospel of Christ knows of no religion but social: no holiness but social holiness” We stand together better!

Methodists have a strong tradition of Bible study, prayer and conscious reliance on the Holy Spirit for guidance.

Habits of Social Outreach

Wesley worked tirelessly with poor people, giving all, he could spare away. At the end of each year he emptied his accounts to help others and started fresh.

Money never stays with me. It would burn me if it did. I throw it out of my hands as soon as possible, lest it should find its way into my heart.

John Wesley

Seeing that poor people could not afford doctors he set up free clinics and published a book of home remedies for common ailments, so people need not suffer so much. The book, “Primitive Physick,” was widely read and used at the time and went through 32 editions! It was no ground-breaking treatise though…..It suggested onion poultices to cure cancer and a kind of elementary electric shock treatment for melancholia. Still, one must commend the practical effort to help! It encouraged people to live healthily, look carefully at symptoms and their possible causes and not to forget that the ill were loved by God too!

He and other Methodists were involved in prison ministry too. His own father had spent time in debtors’ prison as he was a poor financial manager, so their plight was close to his heart.

I look upon the whole world as my parish.

John Wesley

He and his friends set up schools and orphanages wherever they saw the need and opportunity. There are a few Methodist schools in Ireland but still many in the U.K.

Strong views on Slavery and Oppression

Wesley was a strong supporter of William Wilberforce’s campaign to end trafficking of slaves. In modern times we can concern ourselves with the difficulties of refugees and all people who come to our shores from other parts of the world.

He couldn’t ignore the disparity between rich and poor either. He was quite critical of a hierarchical church which could ignore or even justify this. Remember he lived at a time when many church going people still thought it reasonable to “own” slaves! He wanted to rejuvenate the church and society generally by bringing people back to the basic principles of Christian living. 

“One great reason why the rich in general have so little sympathy for the poor, is, because they so seldom visit them.

Hence it is that according to common observation, one part of the world does not know what the other suffers. Many of them do not know because they do not care to know; they keep out of the way of knowing it; and then plead their voluntary ignorance an excuse for their hardness of heart.”

–  John Wesley

Environmental Care

We, as Methodists, want to follow Wesley’s example of seeing need and caring enough to help! The best way to start is by putting our lives at the disposal of God. As Wesley would have said if St. Ignatius hadn’t said it first,

‘There are very few people who realize what God would make of them if they abandoned themselves into His hands and let themselves be formed by His grace.’

St. Ignatius

Each year, at a Covenant service in January, we submit ourselves anew to God and pray, if we can, these words of John Wesley.