John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Movement and Church, mimicked Philipp Jakob Spencer and his mother Susanna in his heavy reliance upon a personal experience of God and Jesus Christ. He needed no other apologetic. It is a well known fact that a very well educated John Wesley struggled with his convictions early on during his ministry. John’s massive amount of head knowledge could not account - or relieve - his nagging doubts regarding his faith and religion (I can personally relate). “I went to America to convert the Indians,” Wesley wrote, “but, oh, who shall convert me? Who, what, is he that will deliver me from this evil heart of unbelief?” (J. Wesley, Extracts from John Wesley’s Journal 100). Wesley later writes concerning the solution to his inquiry: “… and, accordingly, the next day he [Peter Bohler] came again with three others, all of who testified of their own personal experience (italics mine) that a true living faith in Christ is inseparable from a sense of pardon for all past, and freedom from all present, sins” (J. Wesley, Extracts from John Wesley’s Journal 106). The need for a personal experience was realized by John Wesley, and he set off in search of the God who would deliver it. He found it: “In the evening, I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed” (J. Wesley, Extracts from John Wesley’s Journal 107). This “strangely warmed” heart of John Wesley is now legendary. Many who have followed after Wesley cite the same experience, and give it the same amount of priority. Wesley, in summarizing his own argument for Christianity, which would later become the argument of countless Christians (I am one), writes, and quite simply, “Is not this the sum: One thing I know; I was blind, but now I see - an argument so plain that a peasant, a woman, a child, may all feel its force” (J. Wesley, A Plain Account of Christianity 129). Spencer, Susanna Wesley, and John Wesley clearly represent an early modern apologetic comprised of a strong reliance and prioritization of personal experience. These were all highly educated intellectuals who nonetheless viewed religious experience as the ultimate key to personal happiness and religious devotion.
Works Cited: Wesley, John, ed. Extracts from John Wesley’s Journal. Lancaster, PA: Grade A Notes, 2006. Wesley, John, ed. A Plain Account of Christianity. Lancaster, PA: Grade A Notes, 2006.