A Fire in an Old Parsonage: Who Saved John’s Life?

In 1709, at age six, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, came precariously close to losing his life in a raging parsonage fire.

That parsonage, Epworth rectory, was an old house. It appears that it was at least 200 years old when the Wesley family first occupied it near the beginning of the 1700s.

It was a three-story house constructed of ancient timbers, lath, and plaster, with a thatched roof. It was dusty and dry and in 1702 (the year before John Wesley’s birth) that same parsonage had been damaged by a mysterious fire, but had been saved and repaired.

Then came the raging fire of August 24, 1709. It could well have wiped out the whole family. It began near midnight. Susanna was ill and she and Samuel were sleeping in separate rooms. She had two boys with her. Samuel, hearing the cry of “fire” in the streets, ran to Susanna’s room but the door was locked and he could not break in.

Fortunately all the commotion awakened her and she and the two boys hurriedly walked through the flames on the front stairs. Only her hands and face were scorched. Samuel then raced to the nursery where the younger children were in the care of a maid and hurried all of them out through the back part of the house. But once he was outside he realized that Jackie (son John) was missing.

Just then John’s face appeared at the upstairs window of the room where he had been sleeping. He had been awakened by the fire that was already playing along the ceiling of his room. There was no time for the crowd to get a ladder. Samuel, sure his son would die, knelt and commended him to God.

But a strong man in the crowd stood against the wall beneath the window and another man was hoisted onto his shoulders, bringing him close enough to the height of the upstairs window to reach John.

The appearance of the man frightened John and he disappeared from the window to try the door of his room. It was already in flames. He returned to the window and fell into the arms of the man. At that very moment, the roof collapsed and the burning thatch dropped into his room. John was saved — but just in time.

The cause of the fire was never established. Someone blamed it on Samuel’s carelessness. There were also hints of arson. Ruffians in the town of Epworth had often threatened the rector and his family. Samuel’s cows had been stabbed, his dog lost a leg, and the children, while at play in the yard, had been menaced by men who came by.

John’s amazing rescue registered deeply with the parents. All the children had been saved, but Susanna was particularly grateful for the mercy shown to John.      Two years later, May 17, 1711, she wrote a prayer, saying she intended “to be more particularly careful of the soul of this child that thou hast so mercifully provided for, than ever I have been, that I may do my endeavours to instill into his mind the disciplines of thy true religion and virtue.”

In his adulthood, John Wesley himself saw his great deliverance as an expression of God’s providence — his governance of the affairs of all mankind — and was convinced that he had been spared for a special reason. This event had a profound effect on his ministry.

In 1737, at age 34, he began to ascribe to the event the biblical expression “a brand plucked from the burning” (Zechariah 3:2). A modern version (NIV) says: “Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” Wesley came to believe he was saved from a fiery death by the Divine Hand so he could carry out a special ministry at God’s behest.

We all have had such providences. For some, they are obvious — a reprieve from cancer or financial ruin — for others, they are not as dramatic but equally real.  After all, our very lives and the breath we breathe day after day are the result of God’s provide-ence. And therefore should we not, as did John Wesley, reflect on them as evidence of God’s immeasurable mercies toward us to serve His purpose?

In the light of God’s daily mercies, dare we take lightly His call to salvation in Christ Jesus, and then to lives of committed service?

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Photo credit: Ada Be (via flickr.com)

John Wesley’s Adversity Training

Some years ago I was thinking about how adversity can produce character, and particularly “grit.” One example, though couched in a larger passage about judgment, comes from Isaiah 30:20: Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. 

My mind jumps here to John Wesley, 1703-1791, a man of extraordinary strength and persistence I had been reading and writing about at that time.

I began to review what prepared him to lead with such perseverance and conscientiousness in the widespread ministry he was thrust into later in his life.

Consider first his education. There were the five years of excellent home schooling under the watchful eye of his mother, Susannah. Then there were six years at Charterhouse school. Finally there were about five years at Oxford University.

The grim experiences he had at Charterhouse may be one key to Wesley’s future competence and capability. Charterhouse was a well-regarded school for boys in London. One hundred years earlier a man of great wealth had established the school so that select boys could get the best possible education there in preparation for university.

There was no money in the Wesley household to pay the tuition for such instruction, but Samuel Wesley, John’s father, managed to persuade the Duke of Buckingham to nominate John. So, before he was eleven, Wesley left the well-regulated and prayerful environment of the Epworth rectory (parsonage) to enter the tumult of a public boarding school. W. H. Fitchett writes that “the Charterhouse of that day was a school with great traditions and a decent standard of scholarship.”

However, there was one feature of this institution that leaves modern students of its history perplexed: the practice of high-handed student-on-student food theft. When the rations were given out at the cook house, the older and stronger boys took the meaty portions from the smaller boys. It was a daily experience. During those years Wesley practically lived on bread.

Fitchett writes: “A boy trained in the severities of Epworth parsonage, however, could easily survive even the raided meals of the Charterhouse School.” But what were the officials of this great school thinking in not stopping the thefts? It is hinted that such treatment developed humility or self-restraint. More likely, if one responded to it nobly, and without descending into thievery oneself, it developed a toughness of character, the ability to make do with what was available and to fend for oneself without the benefit of warm and nurturing guardians.

Wesley himself mentions another potential benefit of his time at Charterhouse. When his father sent him to the school he gave him instructions to run around the school’s large playing field or garden three times each morning. In other words, to stay strong and active. Wesley obeyed and later wrote that he believed (and we might at least in part disagree) that this exercise and limited diet contributed to his sturdy constitution as an adult.

Many years later, when Wesley was deeply involved as leader of the Methodist movement, he experienced all sorts of adversity. He faced mobs, endured storms, traveled tirelessly mostly by horseback, wrote copiously in defense of the Gospel and for the instruction of new converts, and often preached as many as three times a day.

His own opinion was that the ruggedness and deprivations of his early years — including Charterhouse — had made him equal to such a demanding life.

Is There Hope for Spiritual Renewal in Our Times?

In our era, the news can be dark and shocking. Consider: the intentional shooting of policemen viewed by some as a new means of protest! As recently as two decades ago, who would have thought such lawless conduct would be part of the evening news?

And a recent headline reports that street drugs and prescription opioids used illicitly kill more people than the sum of those killed by auto accidents, gun violence, unexpected falls.  As well, at the interpersonal level, simple differences of opinion appear to easily elicit contempt and even biting hatred.

Lifelong friendships can be dissolved in a moment, and family relationships made to suffer. And then there is our “abortion Holocaust.” Sometimes it seems that our society groans with all of this misery.

The answer to it all? Nothing less than a genuine movement of God’s Holy Spirit to trigger spiritual renewal. Without question, in other times of similar great need, such moral renewals have been sent by God.

And it is our privilege and task as Christians to hope and pray that God will work today as he has in the past. I’m thinking of the Methodist Revival in England led by John and Charles Wesley in the Eighteenth Century.

Some historians say that at that time, England was near the point of moral collapse. There was widespread drunkenness, and depravity of every sort.  Conditions were ripe for massive social upheaval.

English society had fallen so deeply that it needed more than a bit of tidying up.  Politics was corrupt, the drunkenness just mentioned was hugely destructive, and public behavior had sunk into vulgarity and depravity.

Back then, response of the law was both harsh and futile: Children of both sexes could be hanged for 160 different violations of the law. Pick a pocket, snare a rabbit on a gentleman’s estate, shoplift, or steal a sheep – and even a child could go to the gallows.

Charles Wesley, brother to John, records that in one jail he preached to 52 felons waiting to be hanged — among them a ten year-old child. Public hangings were attended much like carnivals. And in cities and on highways corpses were often left rotting in chains from the gallows where they had been hanged.

Instead of societal collapse and even revolution, a divinely-appointed revival of the Christian faith swept the British Isles. God’s chosen leader for that unexpected movement was an English clergyman named John Wesley. A slight man who stood only 5 feet 3 inches tall, he ministered as a clergyman and had also taught logic at Oxford University.

From his initial ministry, nobody would have seen this coming: After more than a decade of earnest but ineffective ministry as a clergyman Wesley was ushered into an experience of God that energized and commissioned him and a corps of associates to guide this powerful revival. England came back from the precipice!

Where, in our disturbed times, is the reservoir of talent and spiritual will to first experience the cleansing and renewal of God’s Holy Spirit and then say “Here am I, send me”?

I think of the human resources for revival gathered in a great spread of Christian colleges, universities and seminaries across this continent in both Canada and the United States.

If a significant number of people in training were to equip themselves with serious intent and were moved by God’s sovereign Spirit to be anointed with power and righteousness, who can guess how God might use them as he did the Wesley brothers and their associates?

In one of Zechariah’s, divine revelations the angel said to him: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord Almighty” (Zechariah 4:6). It’s not  just a cliché. It’s a key to spiritual renewal in any age and it is the word God would speak to us today.

Photo credit: Phil Smith (via flickr.com)

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Why Does Historic Methodism Teach the Doctrine of Prevenient Grace?

The Bible quickly introduces us to the story of Adam and Eve — created by God, placed in a perfect setting, and given a task to perform. They were forbidden only one thing; they were not to eat the fruit of a particular tree; but many others were accessible in the Garden of Eden. (Genesis 1,2)

They violated the one prohibition, and in doing so they placed themselves in rebellion against the Ruler of the universe, the God to whom they owed their existence and their ideal surroundings.

Where should the story go from there?

We can imagine two possibilities. First: In response to such disobedience the Lord God might have struck with fire all he had created, wiping it out. The second possibility: The Lord God might have turned his back on the couple, leaving them forever estranged from Him.

But possibility three is what actually happened: The Lord God came walking in the garden searching. He confronted the pair with their offense and then clothed them with animal skins. Thus begins a wondrous story of salvation.

In essence, God initiates by making himself known to sinful mankind and seeking them out.  This is called prevenient grace.

A Seventeenth Century Dutch scholar named Arminius was foremost among those who brought the term forward, and later Eighteenth Century Oxford scholar, John Wesley, and his followers embraced this understanding during a great outpouring of God’s saving mercy on the British Isles.

John Wesley wrote: “It is God who takes the initiative first to provide for our salvation in Jesus Christ and then to enable us to respond through prevenient grace.” The Apostle John writes that Jesus was “the true light that gives light to everyone” and that “We love (God) because he first loved us” (John 1:9 and 1 John 4:19).

“Prevenient” comes from a Latin word that means preceding in time or order; coming before, or anticipating. In Christian thought it is used to speak of the manifestations of God’s grace that precede repentance and spiritual awakening. Wesley presented it as “all the ‘drawings’ of ‘the Father’, the desires after God which, if we yield to them, increase more and more.”

Thus, prevenient grace is the grace that initiates our salvation. It is the grace that prompts a little child’s first sense that there is a God above, and gives that child its earliest awakening to moral responsibility.

That is, God initiates the search for sinners whom Jesus died to save and He offers them hope. As one doctrinal statement has it, “This [prevenient] grace prompts our first wish to please God, our first glimmer of understanding concerning God’s will, and our first transient understanding of having sinned against God.”

Luke tells us about Zacchaeus, a man rich but of apparently shady character, motivated by greed as a tax collector. He attempted, out of curiosity, to see Jesus close-up and to do so he climbed into the branches of a Sycamore tree. But Jesus saw him and called him to come down.

Jesus then went to his home as a guest and the crowds responded by muttering that Jesus had gone to be a guest in the home of a sinner. But Luke reported the move more positively.

After being with Jesus for some time that day Zacchaeus, in a great burst of generosity, pledged half of his wealth to the poor and also stated his intention to return fourfold to any he had cheated.

Jesus’ words to Zacchaeus at the end of that day were as follows: Today salvation has come to this house…. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.

We cannot come to God on our own initiative because as simmers we are dead in trespasses and sins. It is by prevenient grace that we are first awakened and called.

As the Apostle Paul writes: but because of his great love for us God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions —  it is by grace you have been saved: (Ephesians 2:4,5).

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

And grace my fears relieved.

How precious did that grace appear,

The hour I first believed.

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Photo credit: Kasia (via flickr.com)

Re-post: On Wesley’s Journey to True faith

stormy-seaI’ve been reading again about John Wesley – 5 feet 3 inches tall, 126 pounds, Oxford University Greek instructor, failed missionary to the New World, and father of Methodism. I’ve decided he deserves more attention than his spiritual children sometimes give him.

From his early 20s onward he was a man of what appeared to be great piety. This stood out in contrast to the widespread godlessness of his generation. He organized his days around times of prayer; along with companions he served the sick and the poor; he attempted to manage his time as a spiritual trust; and he even made the perilous journey to America, as he reports in his journal, to work out his own salvation. However, on the latter point, even the piety did not conceal his lack of evangelical faith.

His passage from England to Georgia aboard the Simmonds revealed inner uncertainties about his salvation. Even though he and three traveling companions carried out with great diligence religious duties daily aboard ship — conducting worship, teaching the children, giving Christian counsel — his journal shows that several times during a series of bad storms he felt afraid to die.

He became aware of this by the example of 26 Moravians also on board. These were devout Christians from a community called Hernhuth in Germany. On one occasion they had just begun a service of worship aboard ship when a storm broke over the vessel. The 26 German Moravians continued singing while many of the 80 or so English passengers screamed in terror.

This fortitude in the presence of mortal danger did not escape John Wesley’s attention and he inquired of their leader: Were his people not afraid to die? He was assured they were not. Were the women and children not afraid, he asked further? Again, he was told they were not.

When the ship arrived at Savannah, Georgia, Wesley approached the Moravian pastor, a Mr. Spangenberg, and engaged him in conversation. He asked him if he would tell him what he found wrong in him — like an accountability partner. Here was a further hint not so much of deep humility as of self-preoccupation.

The pastor responded, “I must first ask you one or two questions. Have you the witness within yourself? Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit, that you are a child of God?

Spangenberg noticed that Wesley, this Oxford-trained clergyman, seemed perplexed. So he asked further, “Do you know Jesus Christ?”

Wesley paused and then answered, “I know he is the Saviour of the world.” To which Spangenberg replied, “True. But do you know he has saved you?” Wesley responded, “I hope he has died to save me.” Moments later Wesley tried to make his answer more convincing but of that effort he writes in his journal, “I fear they were vain words.”

In spite of his great learning, his apparent piety, and his willingness to go abroad on Christian mission, something was missing. He lacked that assurance of salvation which the Moravians had and which Spangenberg knew was a key witness to a genuine faith.

Assurance was something Wesley could not talk himself into. Nor could his closest associates have convinced him. This inner assurance could not be reasoned or argued into existence. It was a certainty to be given by the Spirit of God to his own inner being – his own spirit — in response to sincere repentance plus the full trust of himself to the saving mercies of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:14).

That conversation with Pastor Spangenberg took place on February 7, 1736. Not until May 24, 1738 did John Wesley fully understand and completely surrender to the truth that salvation is by faith alone – the renunciation of one’s sins and the full transfer of one’s trust from oneself to Jesus Christ. And when he exercised that faith the Spirit gave him the inner witness of his salvation and his ministry took on a new spiritual quality, sanctioned by God’s power in unusual ways.

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Image info: Stormy Sea at Night, 1849, Ivan Aivazovsky

What I Saw This Week in Coldwater, Michigan

SMCOn Thursday of this week our daughter, Carolyn, drove me 368 miles from the suburbs of Toronto to Coldwater, Michigan. We went to attend an ordination service during a session of the Southern Michigan Annual Conference of the Free Methodist Church-USA.

Eric Rose, a young minister who was to be ordained along with five others, invited us to come as his guest.

Eric had been in touch with me a number of times about different aspects of pastoral ministry, and we had become friends. I knew he was anticipating his ordination joyfully.

The ordaining body was an annual conference. This is a grouping of regional churches that work together under an elected superintendent. Annual conferences meet yearly to review achievements, establish shared accountability, and care for the staffing of the churches.

We arrived at the place of meeting. We discovered there an orderly gathering of ministers and lay delegates in equal numbers. The annual conference was hard at work hearing the reviews of one year’s ministries and anticipating challenges for the year ahead.

We saw instantly that the mood was bright. There were moments of laughter, but at the same time there was evidence of serious work being done.

Annual Conferences are a trademark of Methodism. They trace back to 1744. How did they come into being?

Recall that in 1738 both John Wesley and brother Charles were graduates of prestigious Oxford University and ordained ministers of the Church of England. After periods of spiritual uncertainty and distress they both experienced remarkable evangelical conversions in May of that year.

These conversions seemed to unleash a renewing movement of God’s Holy Spirit across the British Isles. This is referred to as the Methodist or Wesleyan Revival.

After 1738, six years of Spirit-anointed preaching by John and Charles and others had raised up great numbers of new converts. In this mighty movement of the Holy Spirit the revival had awakened the spiritually impoverished, the enslaved, and often the church’s castoffs. As well, many were converted from what today might be called people of the middle class for whom the established church had failed to deliver the bread of life.

John Wesley was the natural leader of this movement. He was faced with the problem of how to bring ordered living to the thousands of the spiritually awakened. Wesley’s administrative gifts brought forth the idea of an “annual conference.”

The first annual conference of 1744 had ten members – John and Charles, four other ordained clergymen, and four lay preachers, not ordained but authorized by John Wesley and his colleagues to preach the gospel.

On the day before the first annual conference convened there was a preaching service, a love feast, and the serving of the sacrament of the Lord’s supper to the whole of the London society of Methodists, which by that time numbered between two and three thousand.

The agenda for the day of the conference was limited to addressing three questions: what to teach; how to teach; and how to regulate doctrine, discipline and practice. This first annual conference was conducted in deep humility. Wesley and these good men agreed that every question raised was to be freely and openly debated, so “that every person may speak freely what is in his heart.”

This first annual conference in 1744 became a template for Methodism. More than 250 years later almost anywhere Methodism exists regional work is administered through annual conferences (though names may vary).

When I saw my friend Eric standing with five other ordinands before the congregation in Coldwater, Michigan, and all six responding affirmatively to the questions for ordination, I was reminded that annual conferences around the world continue to be the body responsible for the conduct of this holy service of ordination.

I myself have administered ordination vows at annual conferences in such locations as Canada, the United States, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brazil, Haiti, and others.

My visit in Coldwater was deeply satisfying. Thanks be to God that the spiritual roots of today’s church sink deep into the soil of Christian history. Fundamentals do not change. And special thanks to God for the declared dedication of six newly-ordained ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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Do Christians Today Really Live in Two Worlds?


Gin Lane, a print issued in 1751 by English artist William Hogarth — depicting the misery caused by widespread consumption of gin among England’s poor.

In the fifties of the last century the late Mary Alice Tenney, head of the English Department of Greenville College, wrote a little book called, Living in Two Worlds: How a Christian Does It.

It was really made up of elements from her doctoral work on John Wesley and the Methodist Revival in Eighteenth Century England, and was written to appeal to lay readers. In an introductory note she writes, “This book is written first of all to people who want to be really Christian.”

In North America, we readily acknowledge that our culture has been in a moral decline over the last sixty or so years. Yet Dr. Tenney explains that the state of affairs in England was gravely worse at the time of the Methodist Revival.

Life there was almost unimaginably coarse and dehumanized. Here are some of my gleanings from her book:

“As for family life in England, divorce, of course, could not be obtained. But a double standard of morality wrecked full as many homes as divorce would have. Prostitution was an accepted, and even protected, institution among all classes, a subject of humor in the literature and art of the intellectuals and the aristocratic, and a heavy contributor to the beastliness of the lower classes.”

“Hanging was the punishment for 160 different sorts of offenses. Many a day saw ten or fifteen hangings – spectacles attended by mobs of sensation–mad men and women. Grandstand seats were provided; hawkers peddled broadsheets recording Dying Speeches. Gin was sold at stands; pickpockets and prostitutes circulated freely.”

Dr. Tenney’s book subsequently focuses on the lifestyle practices of the early Methodists, so she says little about Wesley’s theology. I dub in here a thought about that: Wesley’s preaching was in line with the English Reformation – Justification by Faith Alone; The Witness of the Spirit; Good Works flowing from faith and as evidence of that faith; Salvation by Grace through Faith; etc.

To Wesley and his converts, the unseen world was real.

Dr. Tenney writes:

“The surest evidence that God is what the Bible claims him to be, the One and only God, the All-Wise, the All-Powerful and the All-Loving, is the moral transformation which he works in a sinner. The revolution that occurs in a human being who believes God so fully as to give Him complete control over his life constitutes a supernatural event. Christianity is the only religion which carries with it any such moral empowerment. It performs the miracles promised by the Bible.”

Dr. Tenney pinpoints the a major aspects of Wesley’s life and teaching that we would be wise to adopt in this present materialistic world of ours:

“Four attainments clearly distinguish the early Methodists from the modern professing Christian. First he seems to have found the secret of soul serenity. Second, he gave convincing witness to his business and social world. Thirdly, he contributed amazing amounts to the work of his church. Fourthly, he lived a life of such appealing simplicity that the concept of ‘plain living and high thinking’ finally penetrated the thought of the whole nation.”

Methodism was a Heaven-sent awakening. It was God’s doing. John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield and others were only God’s instruments, making themselves available to him. Would anyone question that it is time for another such awakening on this continent to bring both moral sanity and joy back to many lives?

It could start with us who are already Christ followers: more daily attention to the Book; greater time commitment and intensity for that daily prayer time; rebuilt family altars; increased devotion to the ministries of the church; cleared up unfinished business with family or fellow believers; partnership with other  believers concerned for renewal.

Of course renewal is God’s work. It always begins with Him. But there is an interesting challenge in the Scriptures which is repeated often and speaks to us of our part: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13)


When Unsatisfactory Marriages Are Made in Good Families

Susanna and Samuel Wesley

Samuel and Susanna Wesley attempted to shape their children in deep Christian learning and devotion. You would think that each would grow up to marry well and establish their own devout Christian families. It didn’t work out that way.

Of the three boys, Samuel, the first-born, had a warm, nurturing marriage, and so did Charles, one of the youngest of the 10 Wesley children who lived. John was not so blessed. Later in life he married a widow named Mary Vazeille. She was 41 and he 48. He writes that until then he did not think marriage was advisable, given the work he was called to do. But his views changed and when he married, his early notes to Mary are warm and tender.

However these notes began to reveal an unforeseen state of affairs.

Historian Henry Rack reports that “For over twenty years Wesley’s letters to his wife show (in her) a depressing, at times touching, picture of pathological jealousy, suspicion and uncontrollable rage, and (in him) patient attempts at reasoning, expostulation, claims of husbandly authority, answers to slanders, and various ultimatums as the price of reconciliation….” Perhaps his many travels were hard for her to deal with, and there is evidence that she did not fit well into the Methodist connection. But these do not explain her often raging and physically abusive conduct.

Of the seven spirited and brilliant daughters of Samuel and Susanna, five had marriages that were unsatisfactory, and at least two were disastrous.

History reports that Hetty, in a rash moment, ran off with a man and after being away for some time returned home pregnant. When her father found out her condition, he was enraged and unreconcilable. Hetty, half contrite and half desperate, volunteered to marry any man her parents chose. This was to cover or in some way redeem her indiscretion.

Her father unwisely approved her union with a drunken and illiterate plumber, a Mr. Wright, though her father would not marry them. Four months later the child was born but did not survive. Her other children also did not live. Her life was an ever-deepening tragedy.

Rack covers the family details quite fully but notes that in spite of family troubles, in the children’s early years “Epworth Rectory was not a scene of unrelieved gloom. The children carried on a lively correspondence and shared the affairs of the heart.” And when son John was at home his diary reveals a thriving social life.

There were moderating circumstances contributing to the disappointing outcomes: grinding poverty for the family, a deprived social environment, a scarcity of eligible mates for refined young women, and a father who was rated a serious and competent rector of the church but one who lacked judgment for the regulation of home and family.

In spite of Mother Susanna’s remarkable homeschooling and deep Christian piety, it was less than a model home or community environment. But then, as now, children are to be held responsible themselves for matrimonial decisions they make.

In spite of all this, from this home came John Wesley, in essence the founder of Methodism, and Charles Wesley, the incomparable hymn writer whose hymns still brighten congregational singing around the world more than two centuries after his death.

In amazement and perplexity, we can only say, “God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform.”

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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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