John Wesley (1703-1791) led the most remarkable religious movement of the eighteenth century. From reading Luther on the Epistle to the Galatians, he came, like Luther, to lay the chief stress in religious teaching on personal faith in Christ. He was himself an Anglican clergyman, but on account of his supposed mistaken zeal he was, in 1742, refused leave to preach in the church at his birthplace, Epworth, of which his father had been rector.
He preached instead in the churchyard, standing on his father’s tomb; hundreds were impressed by his words, and for more than forty years he continued the work thus begun. George Whitefield, another clergyman of remarkable eloquence, aided him, until they quarrelled on a question of doctrine, but Wesley’s great organizing zeal directed the movement.
Their services were sometimes held in churches, but as often in the open air. Near Bristol Whitefield preached to ten thousand of the mining population. Both he and Wesley penetrated to the remotest parts of England, and their zeal carried them to America. In each year Wesley travelled, usually on horseback, about six thousand miles, and preached about a thousand times. His life is an amazing record of hard work. His own desire was that his societies should remain voluntary organizations within the Church of England; he held no services during church hours, and at his meetings no sacraments were administered. But soon after his death the “Methodists” severed their connection with the Church of England, and became an independent organization.
Excerpt from The British Nation by George McKinnon Wrong – 1902 – Society in the Eighteenth Century