Religion of the Heart

John Wesley and the Legacy of Methodism in America

Cases 11-12

John Wesley’s Calvinist Opponents and His Organization of the Methodist Movement

Although critics of John Wesley and his movement came from diverse perspectives in the eighteenth century, ardent opposition came from Calvinists, even from within Methodism. As early as 1741, George Whitefield, a Calvinistic Methodist, published a response to Wesley’s sermon Free Grace. Wesley agreed with Augustinian notions of total depravity, yet he could not subscribe to the Calvinistic doctrine of Predestination. Richard Hill (1732-1808), a supporter of Calvinistic Methodism, wrote multiple works attacking John Wesley. Wesley also got in a back-and-forth argument with the Baptist theologian, John Gill (1697-1771), who wrote a critique of Wesley’s Predestination calmly considered.

From as early as the late 1730s, the Methodist movement quickly expanded under John Wesley’s leadership. He used the language of a mustard seed to describe its growth: “I was now considering how strangely the grain of mustard seed, planted about fifty years ago, has grown up.” Yet the expansion of Methodism involved numerous challenges such as implementing a system of bands and classes, trying to maintain unity within the movement’s diverse proponents, determining the movement’s role with respect to the Church of England, and planning for the survival of Methodism after his death.

John Wesley, Letter to Peter Garforth, December 11, 1773. In this letter, Wesley gives Garforth the following relationship advice: "I advise you, not by any means to intangle yourself with a Predestinarian." [MSS 153]
John Wesley, Letter to Matthew Lowes, March 12, 1770. In this letter to Matthew Lowes, an itinerate preacher in Northern England, Wesley discusses the performance of Methodist circuits and encourages Lowes with hearty language: “Well, We will fight, till we die.” [MSS 153]