WESLEYS & Vignettes of their first years in Oxford by John Telford

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Below are excerpts from John Telford’s classic, "The Life of John Wesley."

EARLIER YEARS AT OXFORD, AND CURACY AT WROOTE1720—1729

… Mr. Badcock (Christ Church College) describes Wesley at the age of twenty-one as “the very sensible and acute collegian baffling every man by the subtleties of logic, and laughing at them for being so easily routed; a young fellow of the finest classical taste, of the most liberal and manly sentiments." He was “gay and sprightly, with a turn for wit and humour…"

When he went to Oxford, Wesley still “said his prayers,” both in public and private, and read the Scriptures, with other devotional books, especially comments on the New Testament. He had not any notion of inward holiness, but went on “habitually, and for the most part very contentedly, in some or other known sin, indeed, with some intermission and short struggles, especially before and after the Holy Communion,” which he was obliged to receive three times a year. “I cannot well tell,” he says, “what I hoped to be saved by now, when I was continually sinning against that little light I had, unless by those transient fits of what many divines taught me to call repentance.” * A conversation which he had late one night with the porter of his college made a lasting impression on his mind, and convinced him that there was something in religion which he had not yet found. At first Wesley indulged in a little pleasantry but when he found that this man had only one coat, and that though nothing had passed his lips that day but a drink of water, his heart was full of gratitude, he said, “You thank God when you have nothing to wear, nothing to eat, and no bed to lie upon. What else do you thank Him for “ “I thank Him,” answered the porter, “that He has given me my life and being, and a heart to love Him, and a desire to serve Him…"

The beginning of 1725 seems to have been marked by a great increase of spiritual desire. Wesley was not yet twenty-two. He thought of entering the Church, and Consulted his parents… About this time Wesley began to study the “Imitation of Christ,” which he had often seen, but never studied carefully. It taught him that true religion was seated in the heart, and that God’s law extended to all our thoughts as well as our words and actions. He was very angry with A Kempis for being too strict, though he only read Dean Stanhope’s translation; but nevertheless he frequently found much sensible comfort in the reading, such as he had been a stranger to before. Wesley’s love of A Kempis never failed. In 1761 he told his friend Byrom that “Thomas a Kempis was next to the Bible.” Up to 1725 Wesley had never had any religious friend. Now he was fortunate enough to meet with one, though we do not know his name, who became a true helper. He began to alter the whole form of his conversation, and earnestly sought to lead a new life. He took the Lord’s Supper every week, watched against all sin in word or deed, and began to strive and pray for inward holiness. “So that now, doing so much and living so good a life,” he says, “I doubted not but I was a good Christian.” *

Jeremy Taylor’s “Holy Living and Dying,” which Wesley met with and studied in 1725, when he was thinking about his ordination, led him to make a more careful use of all his time. He now began to keep those journals which afterwards became such a storehouse of facts about his wonderful itinerancy and his evangelical mission. The difficulties which arose in reading Kempis and Taylor he referred to his father and mother, whose luminous answers did much to form his opinions and save him from asceticism.

Whilst preparing for orders, Wesley won his first convert. Somewhere about the midsummer of 1725,f he and a young gentleman with whom he was intimate quietly left the company in which they were, about eight o’clock one evening, and went to St. Mary’s Church to see the funeral of a young lady with whom both of them had been acquainted. As they paced one of the aisles, Wesley asked his companion if he really thought himself his friend, and if so, why he would not do him all the good that lay in his power. When his friend began to protest, Wesley entreated that he might have the pleasure of making him a whole Christian, to which he knew’ he was half persuaded already. He reminded him that he could not do him a greater kindness. as both of them “would be fully convinced when they came to follow that young woman.” Wesley’s companion became exceedingly serious, and the good impression was abiding. Eighteen months after this conversation he died of consumption. Wesley saw him three days before his death, and preached his funeral sermon at his special request…

In a sermon, “On Attending the Church Service,” Wesley refers to a counsel given him by Dr. Potter, when Archbishop of Canterbury, which also made a lasting impression on his mind: “If you desire to be extensively useful, do not spend your time and strength in contending for or against such things as are of a disputable nature, but in testifying against open, notorious vice, and in promoting real essential holiness…"

After his ordination Wesley quietly pursued his divinity studies. But the matter of pressing interest was his election to a Fellowship at Lincoln College. He devoted himself to the classics and other branches of study, as well as to his “academical exercises.” His father had mentioned the Fellowship in his letter on January 26th, 1725. During the following summer Wesley’s friends earnestly exerted themselves on his behalf. When Dr. Morley, the Rector of Lincoln, was approached on the subject, he said, “I will inquire into Mr. Wesley’s character.” He afterwards gave him leave to stand as a candidate, and exerted himself to secure his election. “In July,” Wesley’s father says, “I waited on Dr. Morley, and found him more civil than ever. I will write to the Bishop of Lincoln (the visitor of the college) again, and to your brother Samuel the next post. Study hard, lest your opponents beat you.” • His opponents at Lincoln College tried to weaken his chance of election by ridiculing his serious behaviour, but timely letters from home helped Wesley to show a firm front against this factious opposition…

Wesley’s first impressions of his new college were very favourable. “I never knew a college besides ours whereof the members were so perfectly well satisfied with )ne another, and so inoffensive to the other part of the University. All I have yet seen of the fellows are both well-natured and well-bred; men admirably disposed as well to preserve peace and good neighbourhood among themselves, as to promote it wherever else they have any acquaintance.”*

How thoroughly economical he was another letter shows.f He wore his hair remarkably long, and flowing loose upon his shoulders. His mother urged him to have it cut for the sake of his health. He thought that it might improve his complexion and appearance to do so, but these were not sufficiently strong reasons to make him incur an expense of two or three pounds a year. In this letter occurs the famous sentence which henceforth became Wesley’s motto, “Leisure and I have taken leave of one another. I propose to be busy as long as I live, if my health is so long indulged me…"

Charles Wesley came up to Christ Church in 1726, soon after John’s removal from that college to Lincoln…

On October 21st, 1726, the young Fellow returned to Oxford. His description of Lincoln College shows how congenial were his new surroundings. Dr. Morley was his friend, and the twelve Fellows formed a pleasant little society. “Wesley’s room,” with a vine creeping round the window, known as “Wesley’s vine,” is still pointed out to visitors.~ His reputation as a scholar and a man of literary taste was now established in the University. On November 6th he was chosen Greek lecturer and moderator of the classes. Dr. Whitehead says that his skill in logic was universally known and admired. H He proceeded Master of Arts on February 14th, 1727, and acquired considerable reputation in his disputation for his degree…

Wesley’s removal from Christ Church to Lincoln had one happy result. As soon as he determined to become a real Christian, not merely a nominal one, he found that his acquaintance were as ignorant of God as himself; but whilst he was aware of his ignorance, they were not aware of theirs. He tried to help them, but without success. “Meantime,” he says, “I found, by sad experience, that even their harmless conversation, so called, damped all my good resolutions. I saw no possible way of getting rid of them, unless it should please God to remove me to another college. He did so, in a manner contrary to alJ human expectation. I was elected Fellow of a college where I knew not one person.” He was aware that many would call upon him for various reasons, but he had made up his mind to have no chance acquaintance. He narrowly observed the temper and behaviour of all who came, and determined that he would only cultivate the friendship of those who were likely to lead him on the way to heaven. He did not return the visits of those who were not of this spirit. Such people, therefore, gradually left him to himself. When he wrote this account he said that this had been his invariable rule for about threescore years…*

About this time, probably in 1728, he began that system of early rising which he continued till the end of his life. He used to awake every night about twelve or one, and remain awake some time. He felt convinced that he lay longer in bed than nature required, and procured an alarum which awoke him at seven next morning, nearly an hour earlier than the previous day. He still lay awake as usual. Next morning he rose at six, with the same result. The following night he set his alarum for five, but he awoke as before. The fourth day be rose at four, and slept all through the night. He could say, after sixty years, that he still rose at four o’clock, and that, taking the year round, he did not lie awake a quarter of an hour together in a month.t It must be remembered that in later years, after a long, wearisome ride on a hot day, Wesley would lie down and sleep for’ ten or fifteen minutes. He would then rise refreshed for his work. He never could bear to sleep on a soft bed…

On August 4th, 1727, he left Oxford to assist his father, who held the small living of Wroote in addition to that of Epworth, and found it difficult to pay a curate or to get one to his mind. He had been anxious for some time to have his son with him. Wesley’s principal work lay at Wroote, whilst his father stayed at Epworth, but they seem to have made occasional changes. Wesley went to Westminster to visit his brother Samuel on August 4th; then be set out for Lincolnshire, where he acted as his father’s curate until November, 1729…

Read more at … http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-life-of-john-wesley-by-john-telford/the-life-of-john-wesley-by-john-telford-chapter-4/