December 12, 2017

Wesley Sketches

Charles Wesley
by George Collins

After weathering a severe spiritual crisis, Charles Wesley found a verse in Psalm 40: “He hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.” This verse proved to be remarkably prophetic of the life of Charles Wesley, who is most remembered today as author of some of the grandest hymns in our language.

In his own time, however, Charles was probably better known for his preaching than for his hymns and poetry. His refined manners and classical Oxford education might have seemed incongruous among the rough and sooty coal miners of Bristol, but he felt a particular burden for the simple— but sinful—workers. With his ministry to the workers, he could not remain aloof from the turbulent times. In 1739 Charles met a mob of a thousand miners marching toward the city to riot for bread. He convinced a minority of the marchers—many of them his converts—to withdraw and join him in prayer. Two hours later they learned the angry crowd had chosen to present their grievances peacefully to the mayor.

Charles ministered in the jails and made a point to proclaim salvation to the condemned, often standing beside them at their public executions. Once, when locked in by an unfriendly London jailer, he took the opportunity to proclaim the Word of God to his fellow captives.

Charles Wesley’s greatest legacy to us is, of course, his hymns. In all he wrote 180,000 lines Of verse. His hymns include the majestic “0, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” and “And Can It Be that I Should Gain.”

Charles found a joyful helpmeet in Sally Gwynne. Their marriage spanned 39 years, until Charles’ death in 1788. Some years later, after the death of John Wesley, Sally summarized the brothers’ relationship in a Biblical allusion: “In their lives they were lovely, and in death they were not divided.”

by Kathleen Frank

It took an extraordinary woman to rear 19 Wesleys, and in conviction and example Susanna was an extrordinary woman. She was beautiful, graceful and slim, yet sharp of intellect and stalwart in soul. She was reared in a Puritan ministers home in London and early in life became bold in her opinions.

Perhaps the most, outstanding technique she: employed in child training was her insistence “upon conquering the will of children betimes because this is the only strong and rational foundation of a religious education without which both precept and example will be ineffectual.” So successful was she that a child was never heard to cry in the Wesley home after his first birthday. After Susanna conquered their wills, she began to teach them. Hour upon hour she schooled them vigorously in academics and rigorously in Scripture and catechisms. Her strict discipline was tempered, however, with a strong love.

Susanna Wesley was extremely conscientious about her spiritual life. She was especially concerned with separation and soul-searching. In some of her writings she reminds herself to “make an examination of your conscience at least three times a day, and omit no opportunity of retirement from the world.” One guideline she used as a child and later gave to one of her sons was to spend at least equal time in Bible study, prayer, and soul-searching as was spent in recreation.

Not only did the Wesleys’ mother separate herself from the world, but she would also separate herself from her family in order to be with God. For two hours a day, one hour in the morning and one in the evening, she prayed. Religion was a way of life for Susanna. To her it “was nothing else than doing the will of God.. after all, that is one thing that, strictly speaking, is necessary. All things besides are comparatively little to the purposes of life.”

These sketches originally appeared in Faith for the Family, January / February 1975. They are republished here by permission.

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