The 18th century was not a good time for the Anglican Church. The clergy was corrupt and lazy, thousands of parishes were without a priest, and the church did little to meet the spiritual needs of the new urban population created by the Industrial Revolution.
John Wesley was the 15th of 19 children born to a Lincolnshire priest. He was raised piously, and continued a strictly religious life into adulthood.
His religious nature deepened through study and experience, but it was not until he came across the writings of Martin Luther that he felt that he had come into the fullness of the Gospel.
As a young man, Wesley went to America to evangelize the colonists and native Indians but, feeling that he had failed in this purpose, he returned to England disillusioned.
It was on his return to England that he entered into those deeper experiences and developed those marvelous powers as a popular preacher which made him a national leader. He was associated at this time with George Whitefield, an eloquent preacher.
He preached twice a day, sometimes three or four times, and it is estimated that he traveled almost five thousand miles a year, mostly on horseback. During his career, he crossed the Irish Sea 42 times, and preached more than 40,000 sermons.
But his simple message offended many parish ministers, who banned him from their pulpits. Not to be discouraged, Wesley took to preaching in the fields, a practice which his capable contemporary George Whitefield had successfully pioneered. Wesley set out on horseback to preach wherever he could find an audience.
Wesley's sermons were often interrupted. Sometimes cows were driven into the crowd, and often he had to overcome hostile mobs.