The Remnant On Line History Page

   


"He was plucked from the fire for some great purpose."

EPWORTH, ENGLAND -- It was long ago and far away that a little five year old boy hung on the edge of life from a second story parsonage which was on fire. "He was plucked from the fire for some great purpose." That’s what his mother said.  How could she have known this small boy was going to lead England to God? His father, Samuel, was despised by the townspeople for his abrupt ways. As the Rector of St. Andrews church, Samuel was sent to debtor’s prison in Pontefrank for not paying his debts. Samuel Wesley had to write the Bishop of York to obtain a pardon from debtor’s prison. Many believe the rectory fire was set by someone who had it in for Samuel.

It was a difficult family situation—Susannah had nineteen children by natural childbirth, only ten of whom lived. There were three boys and seven girls. The nine others were either stillborn or miscarried. Susannah was close to her children and set aside an hour’s time each week for each of them. She would speak to them about what had happened in the last few days. Treating children as individuals was a modern idea during the early days of the 18th century. Each of Susannah’s girls met with tragedy. Of the seven girls—one of them had five stillborn children, one died in her first childbirth, another had nine children die in infancy with only one surviving. One daughter married a man who was a drunkard who constantly battered her. Each of her boys would become a churchman—the mother of these children had considerably more influence on them than the abrupt father.

Samuel Wesley was from the southern part of England and he kept his connections there. He was on a church council that often met in London. In those days just to travel to London and back would have taken a week. Because he was away weeks at a time he appointed a curator to preach in the parish church. One day when the children returned to the house they told Susannah they did not understand what the curator was saying in the pulpit. She then explained that morning’s sermon to them in the kitchen. Re-explaining the sermon became a regular event. What started as just lessons for the children began to grow. Some of the servant girls began to bring their families to hear Susannah and then some of their friends were added. Soon there were over 100 people listening to Susannah in her kitchen and this began to bother the curator. She was packing more people into her kitchen than the curator had at St. Andrews. Very upset, the curator sent a letter to Samuel Wesley asking him to tell his wife to stop. Samuel wrote carelessly to Susannah and said, "You ought not to be doing this." Susannah showed her brilliance by composing a reply. "If you want me to stop, give me a definite command saying that I should stop this. This will satisfy my conscience because then you will be responsible for any souls lost because of it." It was this kind of vision seen in his mother that would form the basis of John Wesley’s new societies. Women would be the backbone of the new Methodist Societies across England.

A group of Moravian people who were on board the ship heading for Georgia on October 17, 1735, were unmoved during a great storm. As the tiny boat tossed back and forth, Wesley marveled at their faith.

John and Charles Wesley were the two children who would set all of England on fire. It was on his way to Georgia after his father’s death that John would capture the secret of a relationship with Jesus. A group of Moravian people who were on board the ship heading for Georgia on October 17, 1735, were unmoved during a great storm. As the tiny boat tossed back and forth, Wesley marveled at their faith. He asked why they were not afraid. They told him, "Why should we worry about death, for if we die we know we will be with God." It was that faith that captured the young man for he knew he didn’t have the assurance of his own salvation. During his short stay in Georgia this educated Oxford fellow found it hard to mix with the Indians and the rough colonists of that day. One day as he rode his circuit on a ministry assignment to visit St. Simon’s Island he came to Ft. Frederica. It was there a woman held him on the ground with a knife to his throat because of a disagreement. Soon other men came to the rescue of the young preacher. Wesley was an educated man and his disputes with other people caused Governor Oglethorpe constant problems. Finally the governor demanded that he leave Georgia. John and his brother, Charles, came home in disgrace. It was during this period of time when Wesley began to search for God.

"About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart  through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."

When he returned home, he did not return to Oxford to take up residence. He began to attend the Moravian prayer meetings where Luther’s teaching on justification by faith were being taught. On April 24, 1738, hell would find a great opponent for it was on that day that John Wesley found his Lord. It was in a meeting on Aldersgate Street in London that Wesley began to understand. In his own words Wesley recounts the occurrence, "About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death." This was the victory of faith that launched this fearless 5’2" giant against an entire country ridden with the decay of hell. How could one man make so large a difference? His message would be preached outside the churches of religion. Door after door began to be locked in his face. In 1742 John Wesley returned to Epworth to ask the new rector of St. Andrews Church if he could preach in the church of his father. The new rector refused to allow Wesley into the pulpit. The reason he refused Wesley was because John had already begun to get a reputation as a troublemaker. Wesley then said, "I will preach on private land." The nearest piece of private property was six feet from the wall of the church. It was his father’s grave which he owned. It was there that Wesley preached his new faith.

George Whitfield, told him if he was going to reach people with this message, he would have to take it outside the walls of the church. When the door was closed at Epworth he preached on his father's grave.

Preached on his father's grave.

They couldn’t stop him from preaching on his father’s grave. His old friend, George Whitfield, told him if he was going to reach people with this message, he would have to take it outside the walls of the church. He would be like his Lord, as he would remain loyal to his church and at the same time tear down the wall of religion by taking his message outside of the church walls. It would be in village courtyards and farm fields that large crowds would gather to hear his message. Very often when he preached angry crowds would gather around him. Many of these crowds were organized by the local religious authorities. Wesley would try to negotiate peace with the ring leaders of these outbreaks. He brought faith to the ordinary people of England, while religion stayed behind the walls of the church.

The organization for the ability to accomplish faithful works was found in its leader. Perhaps he learned from his mother. Susannah had a tremendous task of raising nine children with a small amount of money. She was gifted in the fact that she organized herself to raise children and made sure that each one of their spiritual needs were met in the early years. The hardship of loss was a part of her. Losing nine of her babies to miscarriage or stillbirth, she learned to cover her feelings while accomplishing a great work in the midst of struggle and poverty. Today she is known as the Mother of Methodism. She died at age 73 but she lived to see the revival take on great dimension between 1738 and July, 1742. The revival for which Samuel had prayed was witnessed by his wife.

He Was Finally Accepted, For It Was His Vision Of God That Kept England from a full revolution 

In later years Wesley would be seen as a statesman of faith in England but during the early part of his ministry he was not accepted by his peers. Wesley would live to be 88 years old. It was said of Wesley that his ministry alone helped England survive a bloody revolution. His ministry to the ordinary citizen raised the value of the common man to see his value as his Creator had made him. Wesley’s work has eternal value and it still calls men to a personal relationship with Jesus today.