The Wesley Connection

SAMUEL WESLEY

Samuel Wesley was born in 1662 in Whitechurch, the son of John Wesley and grandson of Bartholomew Wesley, Doctor of Medicine. He married Susanna Annesley, the daughter of Samuel Annesley. Susanna, despite strong non-conformist ancestry, joined the Establlished Church. She was the mother of nineteen children of which ten survived. Though pregnant with 'one child per annum' and 'sick for half that time' she brought her children up to a strict and regimented regime.

In 1695 and into an atmosphere of incendiarism and rebellion came the Rev Samuel Wesley as the new Rector of the parish of Epworth. He arrived the same year as the conflagration at Sandtoft when Nathaniel Reading's new house was burned down to the ground. The event would be the talk of the Isle at the time, and to everyone less intrepid than the new Rector, there would be in those flames an ominous sign of what was coming to anyone who thwarted the rebellous spirit abroad. The Wesleys brought with them a family heritage of no mean order, a personal conviction on ecclesiasitcal and political matters of deep-rooted strength an ethical standard of conduct of inflexible quality and an indominitable courage. Their arrival was like the coming up the River Trent of the famous tidal wave, the Aegre, when it behoved the owners of small craft to look to their moorings and the safety of the dykes.

JOHN WESLEY

John Wesley, born in 1703, was the fifteenth of 19 children. On the 9th February in 1709 at the age of five, John was rescued from the burning rectory. This escape made a deep impression on his mind and he regarded himself as providentially set apart, as a "brand plucked from the burning" quoting Zechariah 3:2.

In June 1720, John entered Christ Church, Oxford. He was ordained deacon in 1725 and elected fellow of Lincoln College in the following year.  He received his Master of Arts in 1727 and then resided in Wroot as his father's curate for two years.

In the year of his ordination he read Thomas Kempis and Jeremy Taylor, and began to seek the religious truths which underlay the great revival of the 18th century.  He pursued a rigidly methodical and abstemious life, studied the Scriptures, and performed his religious duties diligently, depriving himself so that he would have alms to give.

When his father Samuel died in 1735 the family had to vacate the Rectory in Epworth which had been their home for over a quarter of a century and on 14th October 1735, John and his brother Charles sailed from Gravesend in Kent for Savannah in the Province of Georgia in the American colonies at the request of James Oglethorpe who wanted John to be minister of the newly formed Savannah parish.

It was on the voyage to the colonies that John and Charles first came into contact with Moravian settlers.  John was influenced by their deep faith and spirituality rooted in pietism. At one point in the voyage a storm came up and broke most of the ship.  While the English panicked, the Moravians calmy sang hymns and prayed.  This experience led John to believe that the Moravians possessed an inner strength which he lacked. After arriving in Savannah, John saw Oglethorpe's offer as an opportunity to spread Christianity to the Native Americans in the colony.  His mission, however, was unsuccessful, and he and his brother Charles were constantly beset by troubles in the colonies.  John Wesley returned to England depressed and beaten.

On his return he allied himself with the Moravian Society in Fetter Lane.  In 1738 he went to the Moravian headquarters in Germany. He left on 16th August, 1738 and arrived back in England on 16th September, 1738 and in April 1739 he was encouraged by George Whitfield, an Evangelist, to take up open air preaching in Bristol.  This is when John started his preaching itinerancy travelling by horseback thousands of milles a year and preaching 15 sermons a week.  An active worker in charitable and social movements, he was also the author of religious works.  After several unsuccessful attachments earlier in his life John finally married Mary Vazell, a widow, who already had four children.

John Wesley, the founder of the Society of Methodists, died on 2nd  March, 1791.  His last words were:  "THE BEST OF ALL IS, GOD IS WITH US'".  By the Grace of God, John Wesley brought about the 18th Century Christian Revival of this Nation, Social Reform, and founded Methodism.  He died in the Anglican faith and is buried in the vault behind the Chapel in City Road, London.

CHARLES WESLEY

"If ever there was a human being who disliked power, avoided prominence, and shrank from praise, it was Charles Wesley" so wrote someone who knew him well.  Even if he tended to be hidden by his brother's exploits, Charles Wesley's life was far from a shadowy existence.

Charles was born on 18th December 1707 and was the third son and eighteenth child of Samuel and Susanna.  He was fourteen months old when he, like his brother John, had to be rescued from the inferno.  He was hastily carried by a maid and placed safely in his mother's arms.

Charles was educated at Westminster School and as well as proving an excellent scholar, he showed his mettle by defending others from the school bullies. In June 1726 he entered Christ Church Oxford. By then, John had been ordained and elected a Fellow of Lincoln Collge and when he tried to restrain the rather careless and fun loving ways of his younger brother, Charles resisted with "Would you have me to become a saint all at once?"

Charles was ordained in the Church of England in 1735 - the same year that he travelled to Georgia with John.  After returning to England Charles hoped to return as a missionary but as a result of illness this was not to be.  In May 1738 Charles was in London recovering from a recurring illness in the home of some Moravians in Little Britain, not far from St Paul's Cathederal. During this time he wrote his first hymn "Where shall my wandering soul begin".  Charles' strength began to improve immediatley.  After experiencing evangelical conversion he began writing hymns and preaching at the great revival meetings led by the two Wesleys and George Whitfield. For 17 years Charles made continual evangelistic journeys, but after 1756 he worked mainly in Bristol and London.  He was firmly opposed to all suggestions of separation from the Church of England. Charles is said to have produced about 6,500 hymns, many of which are still used in Protestant Churches.

During a visit to Wales, Charles met Sarah Gwynne, daughter of a wealthy Welsh squire who had been  converted to Methodism by Howell Harris. If brother John made an unsuccessful marriage, the union between Charles and Sarah must rate as one of the happiest Christian marriages of all times. They were married in 1749 with brother John officiating and the couple settled in Bristol and Sarah accompanied the brothers on their evengelistic journeys throughout Britain. Charles and Sarah had eight children (only three survived infancy).

Charles and Sarah moved to Chesterfield Street, Marylebone in London in 1771.  His ministry continued but on a more local scale. His two sons, Charles and Samuel, were musical prodigies and invited the attention of such eminent muscians as William Boyce. Samuel was gifted so he was compared with Mozart! 

Charles Wesley died in March 1788.