The Godly Mother of Two of Christianity’s Most Gifted Men – John and Charles Wesley
Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1998
Susanna Wesley, the mother of John and Charles Wesley, was truly an extraordinary woman of God – strong-minded, passionate, and intelligent. She was born in London on January 20, 1669 in the home of devout Puritans. Her father, Dr. Samuel Annesley, was an Oxford educated, Anglican pastor. She was the couple’s twenty-fifth and final child. Women of her day did not receive much formal education, but Susanna loved to read, as well discuss the theological issues of her day, a time of turbulence in the church in England.
Susanna married Anglican pastor, Rev. Samuel Wesley, and gave birth to nineteen children, only ten of whom survived. Her life was anything but easy. At one point her husband left her. Another time he was arrested and put in prison because of money he owed. For part of their marriage she was like a single mother and had little money to live on. The family experienced debt, opposition from their neighbors, a house fire, even a time when they believed their house was haunted. Nevertheless, Susanna was actively involved in ministry. For a season she was teaching the Bible to two to three hundred people on Sunday evenings in their town of Epworth, England.
Despite all her challenges and responsibilities she made the education of her children her first priority. She expected them to follow strict use of time, and she spent individual time with each one teaching him/her academically, as well as spiritually. One of her major accomplishments was writing three theological manuals for her children: (1) on God and creation, (2) on Christian doctrine using the Apostles Creed as her outline, and (3) on morality following the Ten Commandments. Susanna was a clear thinker who was obviously influenced by historic Christianity, but some would say by the rationalism of her day as well.
In addition, Susanna was a woman of prayer. Her greatest passion was for her children’s souls. She desired each one to know God through Christ experientially, not just academically.
I end this review with a fascinating story that took place when she was 71 years old. It was after her husband Samuel’s death, at a time when she was living with her son John. During a communion service conducted by her son-in-law Westley Hall she realized in a deeply personal way that her sins truly were forgiven. She wrote:
While my son Hall was pronouncing these words in delivering the cup to me, “The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee,” these words struck through my heart, and I knew that God for Christ’s sake had forgiven all my sins.
Interestingly, her son Charles was convinced that his mother had not been converted until this point and wrote her that up until then she had been seeking her salvation by works. She wrote him back a gracious letter, but was clear that she had indeed been converted. However, she admitted that at a time in her life she was almost without hope:
I am not one of those who had never been enlightened or made partaker of the heavenly gift or of the Holy Ghost, but have for many years been fully awakened and am deeply conscious of sin, both original and actual. My case is rather like that of the Church of Ephesus; I have not been faithful to the talents committed to my trust, and have lost my first love. … I do not, I will not despair; for ever since my sad defection, when I was almost without hope, when I had forgotten God, yet I found he had not forgotten me. Even then he did by his Spirit apply the merits of the great Atonement to my soul, by telling me that Christ died for me.
May this story from the life of a well-known Christian woman bring hope to each of us wherever we are in our own walk with the Lord.
I do indeed recommend to you this concise, well researched 121 page biography, as well its two appendices: Appendix 1 – Susanna Wesley’s Exposition on the Apostles’ Creed (24 pages) and Appendix 2 – Select Meditations and Prayers by Susanna Wesley (12 pages)