This volume examines Methodism by exploring God’s work in the complex life of John Wesley and then more briefly in three of his followers. For me, it was a satisfying and gratifying read that focused on spiritual issues in Wesley’s life and in Methodism.
Wesley was born into a Church of England rector’s home in 1703. As a young adult, he sailed in 1736 to the Georgia colony to preach to the Indians. Yet, it was not until 1738 that he became a Christian. His heart began to beat ever stronger with evangelistic fervor. Excluded from the Church of England, he began open-air preaching. Many hearers, moved by the Holy Spirit, savingly responded. Wesley devoted his life to itinerant ministry. Focusing on Christ’s forgiveness and practical Christianity, he did not want to be involved in any theological issues that would hinder this focus. Living in a day of antinomianism, he wanted nothing to do with Calvinism. He mistakenly saw Calvinism as an open door to lawlessness and a hindrance to evangelism.
Yet, he did not escape theological controversy. He held to the belief that Christians could become perfect while on earth. Later in his life he changed his view of justification. He confined justification to Christ’s forgiving one’s sins, not to Christ’s righteousness being imputed to saved sinners. These errant views led to problems and consequences, as author Iain Murray properly notes.
Wesley’s life is a challenge to men of any generation to pursue their calling with great evangelistic zeal. For Wesley, this came at a great cost to his family life, however.
Numerous societies were established throughout England where converts could regularly meet for further teaching, prayer, accountability, fellowship, and outreach motivation.
Due to the movement of God’s Spirit, Wesley’s influence extended beyond the Methodists. Murray points out that the revival kept England from being caught up in the French Revolution.
After Wesley’s death in 1791, God continued to bless many who came after him in the preaching of the gospel. The brief biographical accounts of the ministries of William Bramwell, Gideon Ouseley, and Thomas Collins are valuable. To me, the stories of these long-forgotten individuals are worth the price of the book. They faced their own trials and remained faithful to the Lord in England, Ireland, and Scotland.
Once again, Iain Murray has written a history that has great practical application for today. He illustrates how the Methodist’s spiritual decline in later years was rooted in wayward scriptural doctrine. Also, he shows how theological controversy among brothers was often addressed by pen rather than in person. Face-to-face meetings and communication often resulted in a different view toward theological opponents and a greater respect for them.
Throughout this excellent work, the author stresses the importance of the movement of God’s Spirit in the revivals that occurred. The same sermon resulted in souls saved in one locale and no response in a different place, all by God’s design. Murray rightly emphasizes the importance of prayerfulness and evangelistic zeal in the Christian’s life.
This is a volume we can read for better historical understanding, spiritual awareness, and a renewed appreciation of the sacrifice ordinary Christians have made for their love of the gospel’s advance.