John Wesley: A Brand Plucked Out of the Fire

"John Wesley," by the English artist George Romney, oil on canvas.
Mar 25, 2020

During his life, John Wesley became one of the most renowned British pastors of all time. He became the father of the Methodist movement, an ardent abolitionist, and a brilliant theologian. The Lord used Wesley to spark a fire in England that has spread to the ends of the Earth. But, that spark was almost extinguished before it even started due to another kind of blaze.

A Fiery Ordeal

Around 11:00 p.m. on February 9, 1709, when Wesley was only five years old, the roof the Wesley residence caught fire. Everyone had quickly escaped to safety, except John. He found himself trapped upstairs with his only route out blocked by the inferno. In an instance of divine providence, Wesley was rescued through a window by a man standing on the shoulders of another. Wesley would grow to understand this event as God preserving him for a purpose and referred to himself as “a brand plucked out of the fire” echoing Zechariah 3:2. Jesus was going to use that “brand” and stir up a passion for his name.

A Rough Start

Despite his near-death experience, Wesley matured into a brilliant young man, being educated at premiere schools and receiving a solid Christian upbringing at home. He went to Christ Church College where he excelled as a student before he was ultimately pulled away from academia by a call to ministry.

John and his younger brother Charles (who would go on to author “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” and 6,000+ other hymns of the faith) traveled to the American colony of Georgia at the request of James Oglethorpe. Oglethorpe desired the brothers to minister to the colonists and Native Americans, and the Wesleys were faithful in their calling to this work. Eventually, however, they were met with opposition and forced to return to England.

The Embers Kindled

Feeling like a failure, upon his return to England, Wesley reluctantly joined a church gathering on Aldersgate Street in London. During this meeting, Wesley had another personal encounter with the Lord which he would later refer to as a “second grace.” Wesley described the event:

“I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

This experience ignited Wesley’s passion for Jesus unlike ever before. However, due to his involvement with the American colonies, the Anglican church he belonged to would not allow him to preach in many of their gatherings. This required Wesley to come up with unconventional means to share the gospel with those in need.

United We Stand

A fellow British evangelist, George Whitefield, was also shunned by his religious community for his American evangelistic efforts. Whitefield and Wesley decided they were not going to allow the Church of England to stop them from doing what they knew God was calling him to do. No building? No problem! Despite his initial discomfort with the unfamiliar setting, Wesley began preaching to people wherever he could gather a willing audience, even in fields.

The modern American church could benefit greatly from the relationship of Whitefield and Wesley. These men would gain a great respect for each other even though they disagreed greatly on the topic of salvation. Whitefield was a Calvinist, which means that he believed God predestined those who will believe in him, and Wesley was an Arminian, meaning he believed God wants all to be saved and does not determine the result in advance. For a brief time, this caused a rift in their relationship until Wesley approached Whitefield with what would become a timeless adage: “agree to disagree.”

In fact, the two grew to think so highly of each other that once, when someone once asked Whitefield if he thought they would see Wesley in Heaven, he replied: “I fear not, (of course, I imagine a long pause here and gasps from the listener) for he will be so near the eternal throne and we at such a distance, we shall hardly get sight of him.” This man, who was his theological opponent, viewed Wesley as a man with such great integrity that his own worthiness of Heaven was not comparable.

There are many divisive issues facing the modern church. We still face the same issue as Wesley and Whitefield dealing with the sovereignty of God in salvation. We also face other political, sociological, and theological differences of ideology. In our “cancel culture,” it would be easy to view the person “across the aisle” as an enemy. But, as brothers and sisters in Christ, this is not an option. We can “agree to disagree,” but we must do it in love. Even if those who believe differently than us were our enemies, remember what Jesus said about them:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”

— Matthew 5:43-45

The Legacy

For 50 years, the Lord blessed the preaching ministry of John Wesley that was simultaneously part of, but separate from, the Church of England. Throughout those years, Wesley encountered trial after trial, persecution after persecution, but remained faithful to his calling from long before.

Although the gospel was his main emphasis, Wesley did not stop with theology. His theology drove his actions. He had a heart for those in need. It is said that at the end of his life, he died poor because he gave most of what he had to those in need. He was a vocal supporter of women’s roles in the church, sought to alleviate the plight of the widow and orphan, and worked alongside William Wilberforce in fighting for the abolition of chattel slavery.

Wesley’s legacy reaches far beyond that of a small movement in London. Today, Wesley is considered the founder or major contributor to the United Methodist Church, the Wesleyan Church, the Church of the Nazarene, the Church of God, and other Pentecostal and charismatic movements. Wesley was a “brand plucked out of the fire” by the Lord, who used that brand to spark a movement that continues to influence millions of people worldwide to this day.

See More From This Series: The Great Awakening

Lucas Smith has served in full-time ministry since 2011 and holds MDiv and MA in Biblical Languages degrees from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. He currently serves as Associate Pastor of Youth and Families at Eastern Heights Baptist Church in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.


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