Susanna Wesley (1669-1742) is best known as the godly mother of John and Charles Wesley, founders of the Methodist movement. Her husband, Samuel, was a Church of England minister for forty-five years, thirty-eight of those in the Lincolnshire market town of Epworth.
During 1711 and 1712 Samuel was assisted in the care of his parish by a curate named Inman. Once during that period, when Samuel was away fulfilling denominational duties in London, Susanna initiated a practice with her own household that, surprisingly, came to have a profound positive effect on the entire Epworth congregation.
Inman did not hold an afternoon church service. Ever a strong believer in devoting the Christian Sabbath to sacred focuses, Susanna concluded it was her duty to spend part of the day instructing her family since they had so much time available for such activities. She read them sermons from Samuel’s library and led them in a time of family prayer.
Shortly after she started doing so, others heard of the Sunday evening gatherings in Susanna’s kitchen and asked if they might attend as well. Soon between thirty and forty people were present each week.
Just then one of Susanna’s daughter’s, Emilia, discovered in her father’s study an account of Danish missionaries who had risked their lives and sacrificed all the world holds dear in order to advance the honor of Christ by taking His Gospel to foreign lands. Susanna was greatly inspired by their example and concluded, “ … if my heart were sincerely devoted to God, and if I were inspired with a true zeal for His glory, and did really desire the salvation of souls, I might do somewhat more than I do.”
She resolved to begin with her own children, and thereafter met with them individually once weekly to discuss each child’s spiritual condition and concerns. Susanna also began discoursing more freely and fervently with the neighbors who attended the Sunday evening gatherings. The results were amazing, for in a short time over 200 people per week were attending the Sunday night readings, which had to be moved to a larger venue.
Inman became envious and annoyed because more people were attending Susanna’s evening readings than his own morning sermons. Early in 1712, he and two other men wrote Samuel, accusing his wife of holding a conventicle, an illegal religious meeting. Alarmed, Samuel wrote from London, asking Susanna to stop her meetings.
In her earnest but measured written response to her husband, Susanna pointed out her primary reasons for thinking the Sunday evening gatherings should continue. No more than three or four individuals were objecting to the meetings. Whereas twenty to twenty-five people used to attend evening services at the church, now between two and three hundred people were coming out for the readings. Some families who formerly seldom went to church were now attending church services regularly. Many people were “very much reformed in their behavior on the Lord’s Day.” Through this ministry Susanna had “an opportunity of exercising the greatest and noblest charity, that is, charity of their souls.”
She closed that letter with these compelling words: “If you do, after all, think fit to dissolve this assembly, do not tell me that you desire me to do it, for that will not satisfy my conscience; but send me your positive command, in such full and express terms as may absolve me from all guilt and punishment, for neglecting this opportunity of doing good, when you and I shall appear before the great and awful tribunal of our LORD JESUS CHRIST.”
Samuel raised no further objection, and the meetings continued till his return. At that time he found the moral and spiritual condition of his congregation remarkably improved. Through Susanna’s Spirit-led ministrations nothing less than a touch of revival had come to Epworth.
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A fuller account of Susanna Wesley’s life of devoted service to the Lord, her family and others is included in my book Women of Faith and Courage. May her example encourage us to “do somewhat more” in our own service of Jesus Christ, His people and those who still need Him as their Savior.
Copyright 2013 by Vance E. Christie