John Wesley (1954) is a historical film about the founder of Methodism. The film was written by Lawrence Barrett and directed by Norman Walker. The film was a re-production of J. Arthur Rank historical classic. It was the first full film feature of the life of John Wesley. It presents the adequate but rather disjointed life of Wesley. The film adequately presents the life of John Wesley from his childhood through to his career as a minister of the Church of England.
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John Wesley (1954) starts with John Wesley’s childhood and education in England. It features an important scene where John Wesley is saved from the fire that burnt his family’s house. The fact that he has been saved from this tragedy makes him believe that God chose him for a greater mission in his life. The film presents the major aspects that happened in his lifetime, also follows his life while in Oxford and his disastrous experiences in his mission to America. The audience is shown the decisions that Wesley takes about the Aldersgate Conversion. Wesley is shown as he preaches the gospel into the daily lives of the people who have been alienated. It was not an easy task but to fulfil his mission he had to pass through the hardships presented to him including rejection. When he realized that he could not reach his objective of effectively preaching gospel to the people, Wesley decides to start his own religious ideology that he refers to as Methodism. It is through Methodism that Wesley takes a significant role in preaching about the moral and religious climate in the 18th century England and the decadence that exists in the society. Wesley disapproves the concern of the social position of the clergy, as it existed at that time. Wesley despises the notion that the clergy should remain highly placed in the society. He chooses to remain within the church and concern himself with the common people and the individual religious experiences they have in their daily lives (Walker).
The film also includes an important aspect in the life of John Wesley through the depiction of the failed courtship between him and Sophy Hopkey. Wesley also passes through a rough struggle with legal issues and the Church of England as he opposed the ideology of justification by grace through faith. His belief of justification by faith, not the doctrine of Christian perfection, is adequately presented as he is refuted in many churches because of this ideology. The movie also includes the failures he experiences twice that he wrote in his journal, when he returned to England.
John Wesley was born in 1703 and lived through to 1791. At the age of five years, Wesley experienced a terrible fire incident in a burning church house (Wesley, Original letters, by the Rev. John Wesley, and his friends, illustrative of his early history, with other curious papers, communicated by the late Rev. S. Badcock. To which is prefixed, an address to the Methodists. By Joseph Priestley, L.L.D. F.R.S. &c 12). This incident made him consider himself a fortunate being just as shown in the film John Wesley (1954). During his schooling, John was traumatized by other children he schooled with at the charterhouse school, in London. His life was religious, methodical and studious. Wesley later studies at the Christ Church in Oxford and was ordained as an Anglican Church priest in 1728. After his ordinance, Wesley moved to Georgia where he went to preach. While in Georgia, he experienced many failures. For instance, he met a woman that he loved and hoped to marry but was disappointed because the woman chose to marry another man (Coe 72). This is adequately represented in the film. Another setback that he experienced was that when he tried to enforce the various aspects of discipline that he had brought from the Holy Club, the congregation of the church rebelled and refused to follow those guidelines. The realizations of this failure made him bitter and he decided to go back to England.
As presented in the movie, John Wesley alongside his brother, Charles, and other men in the Church of England established the Methodist revival that concentrated on the study of the Bible and a methodical approach to Christian living and scriptures. Wesley lived a sacred life and believed that in the obedience, he would find salvation (Wesley, The works of the Reverend John Wesley, A. M. 45). This made him live a strict methodical life that was characterized by abstemious life. He read scriptures a lot and dedicated his life to religious duties. His opposition to the social class, that had been taken by the clergy, showed his commitment to reach the common people and preach the gospel to them (Wesley, John Wesley 20). He deprived himself of the benefits that came with the social class that the clergy had occupied. His deprivation and sacrifice were meant to ensure that he would find alms to give and dedicate his heart, mind and soul to the Godly life that he was pursuing. This is evidently shown in the movie where he chooses the justification of faith that his doctrine of Christian perfection that had been taken by the clergy in the 18th century England (Pasquarello 45).
As shown in the movie, it is true that, despite the hardships and the setbacks that Wesley suffered, he did not give up completely on his religious vows to preach the Gospel. For instance, when he came back from Georgia frustrated, he spoke to a Moravian priest, Peter Boehler and told him that he was frustrated. However, he continued to serve as shown in his journal where he says, “I was indeed fighting continually…I fell and rose and fell again” (Moore 388). However, he had an experience that changed him. In his journal, he states, “In the evening, I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle…I felt my heart strangely warmed…and assurance was given me that he (Christ) had taken away my sins” (Wesley, An extract of the Rev. Mr. John Wesley’s Journal . 109) After this incident Wesley started spreading gospel in open air in order to reach the neglected masses.
From the period of 1739, other clergymen who did not agree with their style of spreading the gospel persecuted Wesley and other Methodists (Collins 45). They were attacked during their sermons and mobbed by the masses. They were persecuted as propagators of strange doctrines and the source of religious disturbances, blind fanatics and endeavoring to bring poverty (Yrigoyen 14). These issues are well captured in the film.
However, despite the fact that the film captured most of the childhood and professional life of John Wesley, it failed to capture some important aspects of Wesley’s social life. Wesley was an active opponent of slavery (Whitehead and Stockton 87). He began the opposition to slavery even before it had attracted the widespread attention and fought against slavery the whole of his life. However, this fact is not adequately represented in the film as it concentrates much on his religious life and the establishment of Methodism. In addition, the film fails to represent the truth of a statement that Wesley made. His statement was, “I went to America to convert the Indians; but oh who shall convert me?” (Beeson 175). However, the film mistakes this for, “I went to America to convert others, but was never myself converted” (Walker). This is a misguided interpretation of what Wesley said.