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The Story

The year is 1732.  John Wesley is an irritatingly self-righteous instructor at Oxford who secretly struggles with his lack of true inner peace.  He is offered the chance to go to the new colony of Georgia, where he hopes to preach to the Indians.  During the voyage, the ship encounters a violent storm; John and his brother Charles, terrified of dying, are astonished to see the group of Moravian missionaries on board calmly conducting their evening service as if the storm didn't exist.

frenchlesson2.jpgIn Georgia, Wesley falls in love with Sophy Hopkey, the beautiful niece of the local magistrate; but he finds himself conflicted about marriage.  When lengthy courtship fails to produce a proposal from the angst-ridden young minister, Sophy attempts to prod him into a proposal by announcing her engagement to one of her uncle's tenants.  Wesley, stubborn, refuses to be pressured, and Sophy must follow through with the unintended –and disastrous – marriage.   Bitterness explodes between the two until one day Wesley publicly refuses to serve Holy Communion to Sophy.  He is arrested for defamation of character – and is to be tried by Sophy's uncle!  There will be no fair trial here.

Escaping from Savannah, he returns to England in failure and shame.  Back in London, he meets another Moravian missionary, Peter Boehler, who counsels the disturbed and depressed young man. Boehler tells him he needs "heart religion," as opposed to the outward religiosity that Wesley has so avidly practiced.  John struggles with his failure and fears and is finally experiences the peace he longed for: "I felt my heart strangely warmed."

Wesley begins to preach about his experience of saving faith, but is turned out of most churches in London.  Undaunted, he begins preaching in fields, and discovers a hungry audience in the downtrodden poor of England.  Appalled by the terrible needs of families overwhelmed with alcoholism, abuse, and poverty, John and his hymn-writing brother Charles begin revolutionary (and controversial) social ministries to better the lives of the poor while also preaching to them of the transformation of the heart.

wednesbury.jpg He is regarded with hostility by the gentry, who believe that the "Methodies" will destroy the social order.  Thugs are hired to break up meetings, and to kill Wesley himself.  Riots break out in many Methodist meetings, and several of Wesley's followers are killed.  Wesley barely escapes with his life several times;  until finally, confronting a mob with quiet confidence, the ringleaders are won over.  

Wesley has been invited to speak in his home town of Epworth, where his father was Rector.  He knows he will not be well received by the current pastor, and struggles with his secret fears about finding only rejection in his boyhood home.  When finally he finds the courage to return, he is indeed greeted coldly by the new pastor, who refuses him entrance to the church.  But the word has gotten out that Wesley has come back to Epworth, and in a victorious closing scene, Wesley is overwhelmed as thousands of local residents show up to hear him preach from his father's tomb.