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John Wesley at age 48

A Moment With John Wesley

by J. Ann Craig

Preparation: Write the song printed below on newsprint or a blackboard large enough for all program participants to read, or make copies of it to hand out at the beginning of the program.

Narrator: John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was appalled by the suffering of the poor and was very troubled by the misuse of money and accumulation of wealth. A saying from his 1760 sermon, "The Use of Money," exhorts believers to "gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can."

One of Charles Wesley's many songs about the poor includes the following verse. Let us sing it to the tune of "My Hope Is Built," No. 368, The United Methodist Hymnal.

Song: Listen to the Music

Thy mind throughout my life be shown,
While listening to the sufferer's cry,
The widow's and the orphan's groan,
On mercy's wings I swiftly fly,
The poor and helpless to relieve,
My life, my all, for them to give;
My life, my all, for them to give.

Narrator: John Wesley's message to the poor was that Christ died for them and calls everyone to a life of holiness and service. George Whitefield, a preacher in Mr. Wesley's circles, took this message to the fields and experienced dramatic results. The lives of coal miners, poor people and others on the bottom of English society were transformed. This led Mr. Wesley to break out of the formal pulpit. Imagine a scene between Mr. Wesley and Mr. Whitefield:

Wesley and Whitefield: Come in from opposite sides of the stage.

Wesley: George! George! I know you are going to say "I told you so." It was so powerful. God is at work in the fields! I finally realized that Jesus did most of his preaching in the fields -- so why not try it?

Whitefield: That's what I've been trying to tell you, John.

Wesley: People heard God's word today who never would be allowed to sit in the pews of the church. The men who brew liquor sit proudly in their reserved pews but the poor miners get sucked into buying gin while their children go hungry. The poor heard the good news! They are turning from drink! They want a way out!

Whitefield: Now we can preach to thousands about Christ calling them to be new people. It's the first word of hope poor people have had all their lives.

Wesley: Pausing, in a more serious tone. George, I respect poor people. I know what it is to be poor. My mother had 19 children. Ten of us survived to be adults. She once had to go to the archbishop to ask for money for food. He had the gall to ask her, pompously, "Tell me, Mrs. Wesley, have you ever really wanted for bread?" Back to normal tone. My mother looked him straight in the eye and said, "Strictly speaking, no. But, sometimes the agony of getting bread and paying for it has been the next degree of wretchedness to having none at all!"

Whitefield: Pausing. John, I had heard things were difficult for you. I'm sorry.

Wesley: Trying to brush it off. It was a struggle, but we survived. It was most difficult when my father was sent to debtors' prison. We were not sure he would ever get out. I was young, but I knew what they did to poor people. Thousands of men, women and children have been hung outside London for stealing a loaf of bread or pair of shoes. I can't help but think of our Lord hanging on a cross, suffering like the powerless.

Whitefield: Trying to lighten the mood. Praise God, you and your father survived.

Wesley: Yes, but so many people don't. The women and children who are beaten senseless by drunk husbands, the hopeless drunks who think they are condemned to hell -- we have to tell them they are no less than children of God, called to love and be loved.

Whitefield: John, they heard you today! Boldly. You stood up there and quoted Luke 4:18, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me; to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." They heard you and gave their lives to Christ -- our loving Christ who can transform lives.

Wesley: Yes! And now we need to serve our sisters and brothers like they were Christ among us. We will all learn to serve.

Wesley and Whitefield: Slowly walk off stage together thinking out loud about ideas of service and economic development for the poor.

Wesley: I have dreamed of starting an orphanage and a school for the children.

Whitefield: Education can help the poor...

Wesley: And a weaving and knitting factory for the widows!

Whitefield: We need to organize a soup kitchen, and heal those who are sick.

Wesley: My mother had some wonderful home remedies. We could put together a book to teach people how to be healthy.

Narrator: Mr. Wesley and the Methodists went on to build all these ministries of service and many more. Our church's mission work is based on the ministry of Christ who broke the chains of the poor and outcast. The Wesleys saw this clearly and the church still serves to this day. Let's sing Charles Wesley's words one more time.

Group again sings the song from earlier in this program.

Used with permission from Response Magazine (July-August 1996), copyright © 1996 the Women's Division. May be freely reproduced with credit to the author and the magazine for church educational purposes.

The top left drawing depicts the Reverend John Wesley (1703-1791) at age 48. All of the black and white drawings have been scanned from public domain nineteenth century or early twentieth century Methodist history books. Please acknowledge this web site, John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life if you reproduce these. A few graphics are available in high resolution format, suitable for print media.

© 2012 United Methodist Women/Women's Division. The Women's Division is part of the General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church