“It is much to be wished that thoughtful mothers would more often keep account of the methods they employ with their children, with some definite note of the success of this or that plan.”-charlotte mason, Home education
The mother whose thoughtful notes of her methods Charlotte Mason had in mind was Susanna Wesley, mother of prominent eighteenth-century evangelists John and Charles Wesley, and often called “the Mother of Methodism” due to her influence on her sons. Mrs. Wesley became an often-cited model of Christian motherhood over the last three centuries.
She was born in London in 1669, the youngest of 25 children of dissenting minister Samuel Annesley. Though her upbringing included meetings with many famous Dissenters of the time, Susanna chose to join the Church of England at a young age. In 1688 she married ministerial student Samuel Wesley, who had also returned to the Anglican communion after a dissenting upbringing.
Susanna and Samuel became the parents of 19 children. Most of their married life was spent in the village of Epworth, where Samuel was rector. Their life together was filled with struggles and trials: poverty, debtors’ prison, the deaths of 9 infant children, two house fires, and Samuel’s unpopularity with his parishioners were among the troubles the Wesleys weathered.
As she tried to cope with these difficulties, Susanna worked hard to give her children a solid and happy upbringing. With Samuel often away, much of the work of teaching and training them fell on her. She had many systems for managing home in order to free her time for the education and spiritual teaching of her 10 surviving children. She regarded their souls as “a talent committed to her under a trust.” She dedicated time in the week to individual conversations with each of the children, keeping tabs with their spiritual condition, even while devoting hours each day to giving both sons and daughters a solid foundation in both Biblical and classical knowledge.
With all of these demands on her time, Susanna didn’t neglect the culture of her own mind and soul. One famous story says that when time for the study of Scripture and prayer ran short, she would throw her apron over her head as a signal to her children that she was speaking to her heavenly Father. This witness of devotion to the Word and prayer, as well as her habit of holding sermon readings in her home for parishioners hungry for Scripture, sowed seeds in her children that would lead to the founding of the Methodist movement.
Samuel continued to struggle to provide for his large family until his death in 1735 left Susanna in poverty and dependent on the help of her grown children. It was after their father’s death that the “Holy Club” founded by sons John and Charles began to develop into the ministry for which they are known. The brothers were converted to true knowledge of Christ’s salvation after years of struggling to bring their good works to God, and eventually, the evangelical group they founded came to be known as Methodism. Susanna spent her last years immersed in this ministry. She died in 1742, surrounded by her children singing psalms of praise to the God she had taught them to trust in.
Susanna Wesley left a legacy of Christian parenting that continues to inspire mothers to this day, and her faith in Christ is an inspiration to all of us who are, like her, “content to fill a little space if God be glorified.”
Researched and written by Emily Upchurch