His Death

Age could not chill the zeal of this apostolic man. Despite of its burdens and infirmithes,' he would not slacken his labors until the approach of death benumbed his powers. Eight days before his death he preached his last sermon at Leatherhead, near London. His physical nature then gave way. A gradual sinking of his physical forces followed, during which his mind was generally clear, his faith strong, his peace. perfect, his hope triumphant. On March 2, l791, he passed, "without a lingering groan," into the felicithes of the blessed life, in the eighty-eighth year of his age. His remains were interred in the burial-ground of City Road Chapel.

Wesley left no children. In February, 1751, he had married the widow of a deceased London merchant named Vazeille. It was an unfortunate marriage. The lady could not, or at least did not, enter into sympathy with her husband's great life-work. She shrank from the toil which his incessant journeying involved, and, after a short time, refused to accompany him to his appointments. Neither would she cheerfully consent to his almost constant absence from home. Hence, after a few years, they lived apart. She died Oct. 8, 1781.

Personal Appearance and Character

When he was forty-one years of age Wesley was described by Dr. Kennicott as being "neither tall nor fat. . . . His black hair, quite smooth and parted very exactly, added to a peculiar composure in his countenance, showed him to be an uncommon man." Tyerman says, "In person Wesley was rather below the middle size, but beautifully proportioned, without an atom of superfluous flesh;yet muscular and strong, with a forehead clear and smooth, a bright penetrating eye, and a lovely face, which retained the freshness of its complexion to the latest period of his life."

As a preacher Wesley was calm, graceful, natural, and attractive. "His voice was not loud, but clear and manly." He was not an orator like Whitefield. but his preaching was remarkable for unction, compactness and transparency of style, clear and sharply defined ideas, power over the conscience, impressiveness and authority.

In social life Wesley never trifled, but he was always cheerful. He was an admirable conversationalist, full of anecdote, witty, courteous, gentle, serious, and at ease I with both rich and poor. Though naturally irritable, he was a master of himself, and was, in all respects, "a Christian gentleman." A more charitable man probably never existed. His benevolence was only limited by his resources, After reducing his personal expenses to the lowest point consistent with the maintenance of his health and respectable appearance, he spent the rest of his income in works of charity.

If a man's work is the measure of his mind, Wesley must be ranked among men of the highest intellectual order. A nature that could impress itself as his did on his generation, that could create and govern almost absolutely an organization such as he called into existence, must have been truly regal — born to rule. Had he possessed a more philosophical imagination, and had he given himself to speculative thought, the world might have rated him higher among its profound thinkers than it does. There is, however, no valid reason for doubting his capacity to pursue successfully almost any department of human knowledge. His journals and other writings show that he had a rare aptitude and appetite for both reading and thinking; but the practical cast of his mind led him to avoid speculation, and to turn his knowledge to account in a multitude of channels running in the direction of the one chosen aim of his life. Yet the clearness of his thoughts, while it led men to underestimate their depth, showed the far reaching penetrativeness of his mind. His perception of things and their relations was rather intuitive than the resultant of a slow and tedious process of reasoning. His mind was therefore less a workshop than a window through which he viewed the facts of nature, the course of human history, and the revelations of Holy Writ, with such clear vision as enabled him to present them to men with a mental force so logical and authoritative, and in a style so terse and direct, that their judgments were convinced, their affections won, and their wills subdued by the truths he uttered.

Wesley's mind was constructive in all its tendencies. Had it. been destructive, he would have spent much of his force in efforts to pull down the National Church, which was nearly "dead in trespasses and sins" when he began his itinerant career. He did not do this, because his genius moved him to build, not to destroy. So strong was this tendency that it restrained his natuiral combativeness, which was large, limiting it to such rigorous defences of what he believed to be vital truth as he deemed absolutely needful to prevent his work From being hindered by the attacks of his many adversaries. This constructive instinct moved him to giveorganic form to a novel system of itinerant preaching; it led him to organize the fruits of his labor into societies, by which he hoped not to supersede or rival the Episcopal Church, but to fan its expiring spiritual life back to healthful action, but circumstances were stronger than his hopes, and the structure he erected became the Wesleyan Church.

Wesley's character was remarkable for its perfect unity and coherence. He was governed in all he thought, felt, and did by that single purpose which he avowed at the beginning of his evangelical career, when he affirmed his belief that God had called him "to declare unto all that are willing to hear the glad tidings of salvation." This conviction shaped his life. It dwelt in his conscience; it absorbed his affections; it governed his will; it flowed into all the activities of his life; it sustained him under hardships and trials; it accounts for the peculiarithes of his career. The most scrutinizing search finds nothing contrary to it, either in his private, social, or public life. Such absolute coherence is rarely found in human character. In Wesley it is so obyious that it goes far towards accounting for that marvellous degree of personal power by which he ruled so absolutely and yet so peacefully over his societies. Men submitted to his rule because they saw that he ruled not for himself, but for the triumph of a great principle; that he held on to his great power, not because he was ambitious or loved power for its own sake, but because he believed the spiritual welfare of thousands required him to keep the reins in his own hands. That this belief amounted to a sincere conviction is evident in the fact that in 1773 he wrote, to the saintly Fletcher begging him to prepare to succeed him, because he was sure that, after his death. his societies could be held together only by placing supreme power in the hands of one leader. But Fletcber's death led him, at, a later period, to change his mind. Seeing no other man whom he could safely trust with his supreme power, he began to train the "Yearly Conference" to govern both itself and the connection. This he did, not by surrendering his power while living, but by permitting the conference to direct affairs under his supervision. When satisfied by this experiment that it would be safe to convey his power to that body, he executed a "Deed of Declaration," to take effect after his death, by which the government of his societies, the appointing power, and the use of his chapels and their properthes, were placed in perpetuity in the hands of one hundred preachers, and their successors in office to be chosen from the body of Wesleyan preachers. Had Wesley deemed it safe to make this legal transfer of his power during his lifetime, he would, no doubt, have dune so. The fact that he permitted his conference to exercise both legislative and executive powers for several years before his death is proof enough that he did not cling to power for its own sake. His aim was not his owii honor, but the good of his beloved societies.


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Last modified 30 April 2010