John Wesley, born in 1703 at Epworth, England, was an Anglican priest and preacher, but more importantly, leader of the First Great Awakening in Britain and founder of the global Methodist movement. While other leaders served the church by preaching the gospel of forgiveness and repentance, Wesley went further, zealously organizing the Methodist movement around what he believed to be the chief end of humankind—entire sanctification.
After experiencing a heart-warming grace of God while reading Martin Luther’s preface to the book of Romans, Wesley made it his vocation to pursue a deep kind of religious affection and help awaken the church to a renewed optimism of God’s grace. By this understanding, the gospel stops at nothing short of transformed hearts and lives, made new by the power of the Holy Spirit. “[Full sanctification] is the grand depositum which God has lodged with the people called Methodists; and for the sake of propagating this chiefly God appeared to have raised us up.” (Letter to Robert Carr Brackenbury)
By emphasizing discipleship and placing Christians in small groups that foster spiritual growth—then named class meetings, bands, and societies—Wesley set up the Methodist movement for an enduring legacy. Today, a significant portion of the global church and evangelicals in the West, including traditions that identify strongly with the work of the Holy Spirit, trace their lineage to the work of John and his renown, hymn-writing brother, Charles Wesley.
In the decades that followed the onset of Wesley’s ministry, he was often subject to mob violence and repeated illness, but that did not stop him from traveling over 4,000 miles every year, preaching the message of salvation, through some 40,000 sermons during his lifetime. His scriptural convictions led him to be a timely voice for abolition, which was congruent with his coming to understand the Christian faith as essentially relational. There were 70,000 Methodist Christians when he died at age 87 in 1791.