A Little Love Story

Long before his life-transforming Christian conversion on May 21, 1738, Charles Wesley, the hymn writer of Methodism, had resolved not to marry. His brother John and other members of the holy club at Oxford shared the same resolution. He began to reconsider his resolution as mid-life approached.

At 39 years of age, while preaching in South Wales, a certain Marmaduke Gwynne, a convert under Methodist preaching, came to see him. He took Charles to his estate — named Garth. At the Gwynne mansion there were nine children and 20 servants. During six days of preaching in the area, Charles felt drawn back to Garth several times.

He was attracted to Sarah (Miss Sally) Gwynne. She was 21 and he, was nearly 40. Could anything come of this attraction?

After six days he left Wales for Ireland to guide a rapidly growing Methodist movement in the region of Dublin. For six months, he preached there, sometimes several times a day. He and the new converts were repeatedly attacked by mobs that showed no limit to their fury. They threw stones, ransacked Methodist homes, even wounded or killed. Amidst it all he was consoled and strengthened by letters from Sally.

Then, it was a rugged trip back to Garth by ship, ferry, and a 120 mile ride on horseback facing into a cold, driving rain. Exhausted from the efforts in Ireland plus the journey, he was sick when he arrived, but he was nursed back to health and preached and served the sacrament of communion at Garth.

He began to think of marriage, but several matters had to be attended to. His foremost question: Sally was raised in a devout family, and had heard an outstanding Methodist evangelist, Howell Harris, preach, but had she personally experienced redeeming grace? He would not compromise on this question; a superficial answer would not do; but in due time his question was answered to his satisfaction.

Sally’s mother was favorable to Charles as a husband for Sally but asked what assurance could he give that he — an itinerant preacher without a settled income — could support her? Charles consulted his publisher. He and his brother talked with a banker. It was established that royalties from his books would be more than enough to provide the 100 pounds a year Mrs. Gwynne required. When brother, John gave written assurance of this fact, she approved.

On April 9, 1749, Charles and Sally were married at Garth. It was a day filled with sunshine and joy. He wrote that his brother seemed the happiest of all present.

Was it a great love? In her mid-twenties Sally’s beauty was scarred horribly by life-threatening smallpox. This in no way diminished Charles’s love for her. She went with him on his preaching circuits and the Methodist people loved her dearly. Long into the marriage, his tender notes might begin: “My ever dearest Sally.”

They had eight children but only three of them survived childhood, two boys, Charles and Samuel, and one girl, Sarah (also Sally). The two sons were child prodigies as musicians and both became well known organists. Altogether the parents, Charles and Sally, had 39 years together until his death in 1788.

In the Wesley family there had been several matrimonial disappointments. Charles’s brilliant and vivacious sister, Hetty, became pregnant out of wedlock. Her father’s unforgiving spirit, bad judgment, and extended punishment further scarred her life. Even older brother John entered into a marriage that brought misery.

But these disappointments elsewhere in the family notwithstanding, the enduring bond between a traveling preacher with limited means and a woman born of wealth and privilege — with a difference of 19 years in age — registered by all accounts as a great love!

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