Susanna Wesley and the Unauthorized Meetings
by J. B. Wakeley, 19th Century Methodist Historian
While her husband was absent in London in 1711, attending Convocation, Mrs. Wesley adopted the practice of reading in her family, and instructing them. One of the servants told his parents and they wished to come. These told others, and they came, till the congregations amounted to forty, and increased till they were over two hundred, and the parsonage could not contain all that came. She read to them the best and most awakening sermons she could find in the library, talked to the people freely and affectionately. There meetings were held “because she thought the end of the institution of the Sabbath was not fully answered by attending Church unless the intermediate spaces of time were filled up by other acts of devotion.”
Inman, the Curate, was a very stupid and narrow man. He became jealous because her audience was larger than his, and he wrote to Mr. Wesley, complaining that his wife, in his absence, had turned the parsonage into a conventicle; that the Church was likely to be scandalized by such irregular proceedings; and that they ought to be tolerated no longer. Mr. Wesley wrote to his wife that she should get some one else to read the sermons. She replied that there was not a man there who could read a sermon without spoiling it.
Inman, the Curate, still complained, and the Rector wrote to Mrs. Wesley that the meetings should be discontinued. Mrs. Wesley answered him by showing what good the meetings had done, and that none were opposed to them but Mr. Inman and one other. She then concludes with these wonderful sentences: “If after all this you think fit to dissolve this assembly do not tell me you desire me to do it, for that will not satisfy my conscience; but send your positive command in such full and express terms as may absolve me from all guilt and punishment for neglecting this opportunity for doing good when you and I shall appear before the great and awful tribunal of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Were not these the first Methodist meetings held by the Wesleys?
Can we wonder that Isaac Taylor says that “the mother of the Wesleys was the mother of Methodism;” and that in her characteristic letter, when she said, “‘Do not advise me, but command me to desist,'” she was bringing to its place a corner-stone of the future of Methodism.”
Who can tell the influence those meetings of their mother in the parsonage had upon John and Charles in future years, who were then little boys, and always present!
After Susanna Wesley died on July 23, 1742, she was buried at Bunhill Fields. John Wesley conducted the services. Charles Wesley wrote the epitaph for her tombstone. Later a new stone was set up, bearing a different inscription.
In sure and steadfast hope to rise,
And claim her mansion in the skies,
A Christian here her flesh laid down,
The cross exchanging for a crown.
True daughter of affliction, she,
Inured to pain and misery,
Mourn’d a long night of griefs and fears,
A legal night of seventy years.
The Father then revealed his Son;
Him in the broken bread made known;
She knew and felt her sins forgiven,
And found the earnest of her heaven.
Meet for the fellowship above,
She heard the call, “Arise, my love!”
“I come!” her dying looks replied,
And, lamb-like as her Lord, she died.
Susanna and Samuel Wesley had 19 children. Nine of her children died as infants. Four of the children that died were twins. A maid accidentally smothered one child. At her death only eight of her children were still alive.
To her frequently absent husband, Susanna wrote:
“I am a woman, but I am also the mistress of a large family. And though the superior charge of the souls contained in it lies upon you, yet in your long absence I cannot but look upon every soul you leave under my charge as a talent committed to me under a trust. I am not a man nor a minister, yet as a mother and a mistress I felt I ought to do more than I had yet done. I resolved to begin with my own children; in which I observe, the following method: I take such a proportion of time as I can spare every night to discourse with each child apart. On Monday I talk with Molly, on Tuesday with Hetty, Wednesday with Nancy, Thursday with Jacky, Friday with Patty, Saturday with Charles.”
“In more recent times, we have heard of Susannah Wesley, who was the mother of 15 children. Poverty stalked her home and some of her children died in childhood. But she brought up the others in the fear of God, personally instructing each one of them. One of her sons, John Wesley, grew up to be a mighty instrument in God’s hands. Millions throughout the world have been blessed during the last two centuries, through his labours and his writings. Susannah Wesley could never have done even a small fraction of what her son did, if she had neglected her home and gone to work to make more money, or even travelled the world as a Bible teacher or evangelist.” – Zac Poonen