The Key to John Wesley's Theology | Grace
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John Wesley's Family
Keith Rowe writes
Samuel Wesley, vicar of Epworth and his talented wife Susanna, had 19 children, 10 of them surviving infancy. John was number 15 and Charles the second to youngest. The three sons, Samuel Junior, John and Charles, all received a first class university education while the girls, following the custom of the time, went without so that their brothers could do well. In a later age, each of the girls would have become leaders in their own right. Hetty was reading the New Testament in Greek at age eight, and had ability as a poet. It was tragic that not one of the seven daughters enjoyed a happy marriage. It was a happy and well disciplined family marked by genuine affection.
Samuel it seems, was a bit of a dreamer. He had political disagreements with some of the locals who burned his crops and barns on more than one occasion and in 1705 had a brief spell in a debtors prison.
The power in the family was Susanna. She taught the children at home and was responsible for their Christian upbringing. She was a splendid organizer. The older children heard the younger ones say their prayers and she gave an uninterrupted hour each week to each child. John’s time was Thursday evening and he remained grateful for those times throughout his life.
When John was five and a half years old, the vicarage was burnt to the ground. Young Jacky, as he was known in the family, was rescued from a second story window which led his mother to describe him as “a brand plucked from the burning”, chosen by God for a special task.
Samuel returned from a stay in London in 1711 to find that Susanna had invited parishioners into the vicarage for evening prayers - over 200 of them, who preferred her leadership rather than attending prayers in the Church. Samuel died in 1735, disappointed that he had been unable to persuade John to succeed him as Vicar of Epworth.
Susanna was a truly amazing woman. In 1732 she shared with John the rules she had followed in educating the children: “in order to form the minds of children the thing to be done is to conquer their will ... by our neglecting timely correction they contract a stubbornness which is hardly ever to be conquered ... I insist upon conquering the wills of children.” It all sounds rather harsh to us but the discipline was tempered by genuine love for her children and, we could argue whether she ever truly broke the will of young Jacky. He retained a deep affection for her and until her death in 1742 he consulted her often.
The psychologists have had a field day trying to explain Wesley’s later life and theology as a response to his early upbringing. The best we can say is that his family was a vehicle of God’s grace to him.
Links to NZ Methodist history/theology resources
This link ⇒ the John Kinder Library online church newspapers out of print will also take you to the Outlook, the Methodist and Presbyterian newspaper in the colonial period.
This link ⇒ a high quality PDF reproduction of William Morley's History of New Zealand.
This link ⇒ Wesley Historical Society NZ
This link ⇒ Sung and Unsung Personalities by Rev Donald Phillipps, Rev Dr Susan thompson, Rev Dr David Bell
This link ⇒ Rev Dr James Stuart, video and associated resources, including links to the John Wesley Code Study Guide, PGPL
This link ⇒ Donald Phillipps papers on Independent Methodism in NZ from the Practical Dreamers Drop In Centre