Wesley's character, says his biographer, is itself a study. He equalled Luther in energy and courage, and Melancthon in learning and prudence. All the excellences of both the Wittemberg reformers were combined, if not transcended, in his individual character.
He possessed, in an eminent degree, the power of comprehending at once the general outlines and the details of plans, the aggregate and the integrants. It is this power which forms the philosophical genius in science; it is indispensable to the successful commander and the great statesman. It is illustrated in the whole economical system of Methodism -- a system which, while it fixes itself to the smallest localities with the utmost detail and tenacity, is sufficiently general in its provisions to reach the ends of the world, and still maintain its unity of spirit and discipline.
No man knew better than Wesley the importance of small things. His whole financial system was based on weekly penny collections. It was a rule of his preachers never to omit a single preaching appointment, except when the "risk of limb or life" required. He was the first to apply extensively the plan of tract distribution. He wrote, printed, and scattered over the kingdom, placards on almost every topic of morals and religion. In addition to the usual means of grace, he introduced the band meeting, the class meeting, the prayer meeting, the love feast, and the watch night. Not content with his itinerant laborers, he called into use the less available powers of his people by establishing the new departments of local preachers, exhorters, and leaders. It was, in fine, by gathering together fragments, by combining minutiae, that he formed that stupendous system of spiritual means which is rapidly evangelizing the world.
It was not only in the theoretical construction of plans that he excelled; he was, if possible, still more distinguished by practical energy. The variety and number of his labors would be absolutely incredible with less authentic evidence than that which corroborates them. He was perpetually travelling and preaching, studying and writing, translating and abridging, superintending his societies, and applying his great plans. He travelled usually five thousand miles a year, preaching twice and thrice a day, commencing at five o'clock in the morning. In the midst of all this travelling and preaching, he carried with him the meditative and studious habits of the philosopher. No department of human inquiry was omitted by him. "History, poetry, and philosophy," said he, "I read on horseback."
Like Luther, he knew the importance of the press; he kept it teeming with his publications. His itinerant preachers were good agents for their circulation. "Carry them with you through every round," he would say; "exert yourselves in this; be not ashamed, be not weary, leave no stone unturned." His works, including abridgments and translations, amounted to about two hundred volumes. These comprise treatises on almost every subject of divinity, poetry, music, history, -- natural, moral, metaphysical, and political philosophy. He wrote, as he preached, ad populum; and his works have given to his people, especially in Great Britain, an elevated tone of intelligence as well as of piety. He may, indeed, be considered the leader in those exertions which are now being made for the popular diffusion of knowledge.
Differing from the usual character of men who are given to various exertions and many plans, he was accurate and profound. He was an adept in classical literature and the use of the classical tongues; his writings are adorned with their finest passages. He was familiar with a number of modern languages; his own style is one of the best examples of strength and perspicuity among English writers. He was ready on every subject of learning and general literature. As a logician, he was considered by his enemies, as well as his friends, to be unrivalled.
He was but little addicted to those exhilarations and contrarieties of frame which characterize imaginative minds. His temperament was warm, but not fiery. His intellect never appears inflamed, but was a glowing, serene radiance. His immense labors were accomplished, not by the impulses of restless enthusiasm, but by the cool calculations of his plans, and the steady self-possession with which he pursued them. "Though always in haste," he said, "I am never in a hurry." He was as economical with his time as a miser could be with his gold; rising at four o'clock in the morning, and allotting to every hour its appropriate work. "Leisure and I have taken leave of each other," said he. And yet such was the happy arrangement of his employments, that, amidst a multiplicity that would distract an ordinary man, he declares that "there are few persons who spend so many hours secluded from all company as myself." "The wonder of his character," said Robert Hall, "is the self-control by which he preserved himself calm, while he kept all in excitement around him. He was the last man to be infected by fanaticism. His writings abound in statements of preternatural circumstances; but it must be remembered that his faults in these respects were those of his age, while his virtues were peculiarly his own."
Though of a feeble constitution, the regularity of his habits, sustained through a life of great exertions and vicissitudes, produced a vigor and equanimity which are seldom the accompaniments of a laborious mind or of a distracted life. "I do not remember," he says, "to have felt lowness of spirits one quarter of an hour since I was born." "Ten thousand cares are no more weight to my mind than ten thousand hairs are to my head." "I have never lost a night's sleep in my life." "His face was remarkably fine, his complexion fresh to the last week of his life, and his eye quick, keen, and active." He ceased not his labors till death. After the eightieth year of his age, he visited Holland twice. At the end of his eighty-second, he says, "I am never tired (such is the goodness of God) either with writing, preaching, or travelling." He preached under trees which he had planted himself, at Kingswood. He outlived most of his first disciples and preachers, and stood up, mighty in intellect and labors, among the second and third generations of his people. In his later years persecution had subsided; he was every where received as a patriarch, and sometimes excited, by his arrival in towns and cities, an interest "such as the presence of the king himself would produce." He attracted the largest assemblies, perhaps, which were ever congregated for religious instruction, being estimated sometimes at more than thirty thousand! Great intellectually, morally, and physically, he at length died, in the eighty-eighth year of his age and sixty-fifth of his ministry, unquestionably one of the most extraordinary men of any age.
Nearly one hundred and forty thousand members, upward of five hundred itinerant, and more than one thousand local preachers, were connected with him when he died.