God, Man, Woman, And The Wesleys


By August 22, when the court acted upon the complaint, nine other articles had been added to the indictment. These complaints had to do with autocratic procedures in Wesley’s church ritual—procedures that, as Wesley proclaimed, were “none of the court’s business.” After hearing an address by the chief magistrate, Causton, the forty-four-man grand jury found a true bill against the preacher on all charges.

Wesley demanded, but did not get, a quick trial on the complaints. Toward the end of November, with the trial date still not named, but with animosity against Wesley flaring up, he posted a notice in the public square telling the community he intended to leave. The court promptly warned him not to quit the province until the charges had been resolved, and another notice went up in the square, this one forbidding any man to help him get away.

“I now saw clearly,” wrote Wesley, “the hour was come for me to fly for my life, leaving this place, and as soon as evening prayers were over, about eight o’clock, the tide then serving, I shook off the dust of my feet, and left Georgia, having preached the Gospel there with much weakness indeed and many infirmities, not as I ought but as I was able.”

In getting away he had little help except from the faithful Delamotte, who wanted to accompany him but lacked the passage money. (Ingham had returned to England earlier.) Wesley set out in a small boat with a threeman crew—”a barber, a constable and a tithing-man, all fugitives from their creditors or their families”—and after a difficult and dangerous trip, arrived cold and hungry in Charles Town, South Carolina, on December 13, 1737. He sailed for England on Christmas Eve.

On shipboard John Wesley immediately resumed his sermons, prayer meetings, and reading and instruction sessions. But his diary entries reveal that he was profoundly troubled. “I went to America,” he wrote, “to convert the Indians, but oh! who shall convert me? This have I learned in the ends of the earth, that I am fallen short of the glory of God, that my whole heart is altogether corrupt and abominable, and consequently my whole life. Alienated as I am from the life of God, I am a child of wrath, an heir of hell.”

On the way home the troubled Wesley wrote, “I went to America to convert the Indians, but oh! who shall convert me?”

The thirty-four-year-old priest struggled out of his despair after he reached England. By 1739 he had drawn together several religious groups into the United Society of Methodists. (In America the Methodist Church was formally organized in 1784.) In addition to launching Methodism, John Wesley revitalized Christianity in England. During more than half a century of itinerant preaching, he delivered forty thousand sermons, the last only a week before he died in March 1791 as he neared his eighty-seventh birthday.