In the 1730s there lived in England a man named Charles Wesley, brother to the better-known John Wesley, both of them founders of Methodism. They were ordained Anglican clergymen and ardent in observing the practices of the faith.
As an example of their serious intent to devote themselves completely to God, while studying at Oxford they and some of their companions vowed not to marry, and agreed if any of them should change their mind they would consult one another about their plans.
Years later, when Charles was approaching middle age, he began to have second thoughts about this resolution. By then, the Methodist movement had become large and he, the gifted hymn-writer, was busy traveling, preaching, and composing hymns to be sung.
At thirty-nine years of age he preached briefly in South Wales along the western coast of England. While there, a Methodist convert named Marmaduke Gwynne came to see him, and then took him to his estate — a large property named Garth, complete with a mansion, nine children, and 20 servants.
During six days of preaching in the area Charles found himself drawn back to Garth several times. Sarah Gwynne (Miss Sally) was the attraction. She was 21, he nearly 40.
After six days he crossed the waters to Ireland where there was a rapidly developing Methodist movement in the region of Dublin. He preached there for six months, sometimes several times a day. It was a tumultuous time: there were riots, Methodist homes were ransacked, and brutal murders were committed. Amidst it all, Charles was consoled and strengthened by letters from Sally.
The trip back to Garth in South Wales was rugged — first by ship, then by a coastal ferry. But the last leg of his journey was 120 miles on horseback in the face of a driving rain. When he arrived at Garth he was ill, but, nursed back to health, he was able to preach and administer communion.
Charles began to think about marriage, but two matters had to be attended to first. His foremost question: Had Sally personally experienced redeeming grace? This was the life-changing message at the heart of the Methodist renewal. That is, it was the Methodist restoration of the Gospel message of “new birth” or “the inner transformation” to new life in Christ. Charles evidently needed to know that Sally’s Gospel experience and understanding were more than piety and formalized devotion.
Both Charles and brother John would not compromise on this question. They themselves had been transformed from several years of a rigorous but unsatisfying faith by a powerful awakening of the Holy Spirit. Happily, in due time, Charles’ question about Sally’s faith was answered to his satisfaction.
The second matter was his ability to care for wife. Sally’s mother was favorable to Charles as a husband for Sally but asked what assurance he could give that an itinerant preacher without a settled income could support her. Charles consulted his publisher. He and his brother talked to a banker. The answer: royalties from his books would be more than enough to provide the 100 pounds a year that Mrs. Gwynne required. When brother John gave written assurance on behalf of brother Charles of adequate resources, Mrs. Gwynne approved.
A spiritual question and then a practical one had been thoroughly addressed. Then, on April 9, 1749, Charles and Sally were married at Garth. It was a day filled with sunshine and joy. Charles wrote that his brother John seemed the happiest of all those present.
Was it a great and durable love? In her mid-twenties Sally’s beauty was scarred horribly by life-threatening smallpox. This disfigurement in no way diminished Charles’s love for her. She went with him on his preaching circuit and the Methodist people loved her dearly. Years into the marriage his tender notes to her might begin, “My ever dearest Sally”.
Charles and Sally had eight children but only three survived childhood: two boys, Charles and Samuel, and one girl, Sarah (also called Sally). The two sons were musical child prodigies and both became well-known organists. Sally had the poetic gift of her father. Parents Charles and Sally were happily married 39 years until his death in 1788.
What do we glean from this story? A determined 120-mile ride through a pelting rain speaks of the enlivening and motivating effects of genuine love. Mrs. Gwynne’s insistence that Charles show evidence of adequate support for her daughter speaks of the parental responsibility of a mother’s heart, especially in a day when there was no significant social safety net. Charles’ tender notes addressed to Sally across decades of marriage speak of the durability of genuine love through all circumstances.
And Charles’ foremost question, above, bore witness that, above all, it was a living shared faith in Christ our Lord that bound their marriage together.