It is almost strange that we remember January 20 as Susanna Wesley’s birthday. I mean think about it, how many other mothers of famous religious figures do we even remember by name? And yet, the mother of John and Charles Wesley has taken on a renown that almost equals her sons’.
Susanna Wesley was born the last of 25 children to prominent Puritan pastor Samuel Annesley and Mary White (The Puritan Sermons 1659–1689 collection features 5 of Annesley’s sermons). Annesley, opposed to state interference in religious matters, was a dissenter from the Church of England. Showing the strength of will she would exhibit her whole life, Susanna left her father’s church at 13 and joined the official Church of England.
She soon met Samuel Wesley, a 19-year-old who had also left a church of dissenters and committed himself to the Church of England. They were married after Samuel finished studies at Oxford and was ordained into the Church of England.
Samuel was a strict and austere man who struggled with finances his whole life. Not only did he spend time imprisoned for debt, he even left the family for months out of frustration with Susanna for not saying “amen” to a prayer for King William III. Samuel explained to Susanna that if they were to have two kings, they would also have two beds.
The lion’s share of the responsibility for parenting their children fell on Susanna. She did not shrink from this responsibility—she shined. The Wesley home was run by Susanna’s strict guidelines which included:
- Children will be taught to pray as soon as they can speak.
- Children will not receive what they cry for, and only what they ask for politely.
- To prevent lying, children will not be punished for what they confess and repent of.
- Children will not be punished twice for a single offense.
- Good behavior will be commended and rewarded.
- Any attempt to please, no matter how poorly performed, will be commended.
- Property rights will be preserved, even in minute matters.
- Children will be taught to fear the Lord.
As you can see, Susanna was extremely intentional in her parenting style. And although some of her rules may seem foreign and severe to modern eyes, the Wesley children adored their mother. In fact, as a child John thought he might never marry because he would never be able to find a woman as exemplary as Susanna.
Despite worries about her ability to parent alone, Susanna poured herself into her role. In a letter to Samuel, Susanna wrote:
“I am a woman, so 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 care as a talent committed to me under a trust. . . . 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 [John]; Friday with Patty; Saturday with Charles. . .”
It is these regular one-on-one discussions with their mother that helped John and Charles become thoughtful and introspective. And it was the regimented intentionality of their upbringing which helped give Methodism its systematic nature. It’s for this amazing legacy that we remember her so fondly.
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