In late Seventeenth and early Eighteenth Century England, there were three John Wesleys born to Samuel and Susanna Wesley. First there was a John who died in infancy. Then came a John Benjamin, who also died in infancy. Then a third child named John Wesley was born. This John survived the ravages of infant mortality, reached adulthood, and became the main voice and organizer of a revival that brought the Methodist movement into being.
In those times of large families and high infant mortality it was not uncommon for parents to use the same name again when an earlier child bearing the name did not survive. That is precisely what Susanna Wesley did.
The John who survived is thought to be the 14th of 19 children born to Samuel and Susanna Wesley across the span of 21 years. Nine children died in infancy. What woman today can fathom the grief of a mother’s heart who must follow her cherished babies to the grave on nine different occasions?
There would be no solace in the fact that there were 19 children and thus other children were left for her to nurture and love. To a mother’s heart, every child is as precious and unique as if it were her only child, and no other child could fill its place. Susanna Wesley grieved her losses profoundly each of nine times.
If John Wesley is counted as the 14th child of Samuel and Susanna, born on June 28, 1703, his younger brother, Charles is believed to be the 17th, born December 18, 1707. Only three of Susanna’s male children survived to adulthood – John and Charles plus Samuel, an older brother, who, like them, was also an Anglican priest. So, John Wesley grew up in a household of girls.
John and Charles survived to become the divinely-appointed instruments for a revival of Christian faith that changed the face of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, then over-leaped the ocean to the American Colonies. John preached and wrote copiously, Charles composed hundreds of hymns that fueled the joy of the revival and credited him as the greatest hymn writer of the English world.
That the two survived to be God’s servants in such a special way when nine siblings did not we can only attribute to the mystery of God’s divine purposes.