In 1738, three years after Whitefield’s conversion, the Wesley brothers returned from a disastrous ‘missionary’ attempt in America.
John Wesley later acknowledged that while he had gone to America to convert the Indians, it was he himself that needed to get converted.
Storms at Sea
God used various circumstances to unsettle the strong headed John Wesley and show him that he was not saved. During the outward bound voyage a terrible storm arose, smashing the ship and frightening both passengers and crew, except the Moravian Christians.
‘In the midst of the psalm wherewith their service began, the sea broke over, split the main sail in pieces, covered the ship, and poured in upon the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up. A terrible screaming began among the English. The Germans calmly sung on…’ (John Wesley, Journals Vol 1, p.22, 1872 edition reprinted by Baker)
Wesley was petrified by the enormity of the storm and the reality of death. Afterwards he asked one of them whether they were afraid. ‘No!’ the Moravian church planter replied. Wesley asked about the women and children. Surely they were afraid. ‘Our women are not afraid to die!’
Storms on Land
When the brothers got to America they were not popular. Their strict legalism was at first, a curiosity and later, an irritation, to the settlers.
Wesley arranged a meeting with the Moravian leader, Spangenberg, who had already lived there a year. Wesley had plenty of questions for the Moravian leader about the colony.
However, Spangenberg, having listened carefully to Wesley, felt he needed to ask a few:
‘Do you know yourself?’ he asked.
‘Have you the witness in yourself? Does the spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?’ Hmmm….Wesley hesitated.
Finally, Spangenberg asked, ‘Do you know Jesus Christ?’
John Pollock writes, ‘Wesley paused in some confusion, then replied lamely, ‘I know he is the Saviour of the world.’
‘True, said the German, ‘but do you know he has saved you?’ Wesley replied uncomfortably, ‘I hope he has died to save me!’
Again Spangenberg pressed the question, ‘Do you know, yourself?’
Wesley replied, ‘I do!’ (‘But I fear they were vain words’ he later wrote) (John Pollock, John Wesley, Hodder, p.68-69)
Storms in Love
But his internal problems quickly became external ones! The worst of it was when John, seeking to win the hand of the pretty Sophy Hopkey, was shocked to discover that another man had asked for her hand in marriage. And, in direct contradiction to the encouraging signs Wesley felt he had received, Sophy married this chap!
Whatever the details, the conclusion was that he barred her from taking communion and was then pursued for defamation of character by the husband.
He was also attacked by another of the young wives there. Pollock records that a certain Mrs. Hawkins became convinced that Wesley had slandered her. She invited him to her home where she ‘threatened to shoot him, then set upon him with a pair of scissors; she swore at him, tore his cossack, and threw him on to her bed where she cut off one side of his long hair.’ The shocked and humbled Wesley was finally rescued by the husband and servants. Pollock adds, ‘the story of the little parson’s adventures was soon all over the colony.’
One congregant was particularly amused to watch Wesley in the pulpit and recorded that he preached ‘with his hair so long on one side, so short on the other’! (Pollock, p.73-74)
Finally, the controversy surrounding Sophy Hopkins grew to such an extent that John and Charles fled back to England.
Although, he was one of those who used the fairly common Methodist expression, ‘The whole world is my parish’. They never returned to America.
Both brothers were now more convinced than ever that they needed to get right with God themselves, before trying to get others right.
© 2009 Lex Loizides