Although the eighteenth century is seen as the Age of Reason, it also witnessed a profound religious revival that encompassed parts of central Europe, the British Isles and North America. New religious groups, most notably the Moravians sprang up to meet needs that the more established churches seemed inadequate to deal with.
The MethodistsThe first prominent Methodist was not John Wesley but George Whitefield, (1714-70), who was converted three years before Wesley and who at the time of Wesley's conversion was already using open-air preaching to dramatic effect. John Wesley (1703-91) entered Christ Church, Oxford in 1720. He and graduated in 1724. In 1728 he was ordained priest. In 1729 he returned to Oxford to fulfil the residential requirements of his fellowship. There he joined his brother Charles and others in a religious study group, the ‘Holy Club’, one of a number of societies of devout young men. These societies were concerned with the ‘reformation of manners’ – attacking swearing, blasphemy and Sabbath-breaking. The ordered lifestyle of the Oxford club earned them the nickname ‘Methodists’.
Following his father’s death in 1735 Wesley sailed to the new American colony of Georgia to oversee the spiritual lives of the colonists and to do missionary work among the Indians as an agent for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. On the voyage out there, the ship ran into a storm, and he and Charles were impressed and put to shame by the piety and courage of their Moravians fellow-voyagers, who, alone among the passengers showed no fear.
Wesley's time in Georgia was an unhappy one, and in December 1737 he virtually fled the colony, an unhappy and disappointed man.
Back in London he met a Moravian, Peter Böhler, who convinced him that what he needed was simply faith. On 24 May 1738, he attended a Moravian mission in Aldersgate - an experience that was a turning point for him. Following his conversion he embarked on a lifetime’s mission throughout the British Isles in which he travelled over 200,000 miles and preached over 40,000 sermons. He quickly found that the ancient parochial structure of England was inadequate to his purpose and was not adapted to new population movements.