The Wesley Family

By Colin Ryan

A great influence upon the lives of the two Wesley’s was made by three men who are so very often forgotten, or not even known about, in favour of the Wesley brothers’ mother (especially among Methodist writers). The first of these was Dr. Samuel Annesley, 1620-1696; he was the father of Mrs. S. Wesley. The reason for this failure may be that the Wesley’s were High Church men (Brazier Green. 1945: 19.), were as Dr. Annesley was a strong powerful Puritan. He was, firstly chaplain of the navel ship Globe whose captain was the Earl of Warwick. He then took his first pastorate at Cliffe in Kent, then from 1644, was chaplain to the Earl of Warwick, who was then the Lord High Admiral, and Annesley also became the lecturer at St. Paul’s Cathedral. When he was ordained, seven ministers came forward and took part in the service. Annesley was then, from 1658-1662, lecturer at St. Giles, Cripplegate, being given the living by the then Lord Protector Richard Cromwell. After being ejected in 1662, he lived quietly until 1672 when he became minister to the Congregation of Dissenters in Little St. Helen’s, off Bishopgate Street, where he exercised a very influential ministry, remaining there until his death, he preached to a congregation estimated at 800

He died on 31 December 1696, his funeral sermon being preached by Daniel Williams, while Daniel Defoe, a member of his congregation, wrote an elegy on his death: 

The sacred bow he so divinely drew,

That every shot both hit and overthrew;

His native candour and familiar style,

Which do so often his hearers’ hours beguile,

Charmed us with godliness, and while he spake,

We loved the doctrine for the speaker’s sake.

He was buried in St. Leonard’s ChurchyardShoreditch, like many of the Puritans in an unmarked plot.

Annesley’s great influence is shown in the following. A regular morning sermon was preached, in turn, in several of the Churches of London, efforts were made to get Queen Elizabeth I. to put a stop to them but Bishop Grindal refused the Queen’s request. The sermons were collected together and published in six volumes; Annesley was editor of four of these volumes. Among the preachers was John Tilloton, who later became Archbishop of Canterbury. (Coxon, 1981(2): 248-248.) These sermons were began by Thomas Case.

To get an idea of these meetings we need to go forward to the 18th Century Revival, when these meetings had been revived.  John Wesley’s appointed preacher at the main Methodist Church in London was the hymn writer Thomas Oliver’s (The God of Abraham Praise) He stood in for Wesley when he was away from London. This man was not a good choice, Wesley had to write several letters to the ‘newspapers’ apologizing for things Olivers had said or written, in the end Wesley band him from writing anything that was going to be printed; that he had not first of all edited it. 

The following is Olivers report of when he went to one of these “Preaching” meetings; – 

I went last Wednesday morning to a famous Antinomian Church in the city, to hear one of the Antinomian clergymen. I expected to have seen very few people there; but though the Church is large, it was quite full. What a shame is it, my brethren, that an Antinomian preacher should have so many people to hear him, when I, who preach the pure gospel, was forced but now to wait a considerable time for my congregation, and after waiting long, to begin to eighteen or twenty people (quoted by Gadsby, s.a: 112). 

Its not a very good report, but sadly it’s the only one I have been able to find. What is interesting is that the preacher, on that morning at 7:30, was the young A. M. Toplady and this was before he had published his hymn “Rock of Ages.” One would be very hard pushed to find anything that is Antinomian in any of Toplady’s writing’s, its just that Olivers was a very strong Arminian and hated anyone who disagreed with him or John Wesley.

Annesley’s influence upon his daughter was immense, and they wrote often, even though he opposed the Wesley’s joining the Church of England. He gave much advice upon how to bring up the children and how to teach them. His ministry and religious experience were to bear a remarkable resemblance to that of his grandson, John Wesley. (Brazier Green, 1945: 17-19.)

He used to say that he did not remember the time when he was not converted. Recalling his mother’s influence, we can understand his meaning. His heart was gently opened to receive the truths, which lead a child into a path of peace. But a decisive change took place in his experience. For a considerable time during his ministerial life, he ‘walked in heaviness’. Then about forty years before his death there came a crisis, and he obtained clear and abiding assurance of personal salvation. After that, he had ‘no darkness, no fear, no doubt at all of his being accepted in his Beloved’. (Dr. J. S. Simon’s; Revival of Religion in England in the Eighteenth Century quoted by Brazier Green. 1945; 17.)

We need to point out here just how far John Wesley moved away later on, from the faith and teaching of his grandfather. Dr. Annesley joined with the greatest of the Puritan preachers, John Owen to write the preface to Elisha Coles’ book Discourse on Divine Sovereignty.  Wesley attacked on separate occasions, both John Owen, Elisha Coles’ and also that book, as being dangerous to the Church. Indeed, Wesley actually started writing, with others, a book that set out to discredit John Owen’s many books and also his character as a preacher. Dr. Annesley also wrote the preface to a book by another of the great Puritan’s Joseph Alleine’s ‘Instructions about Heart Work’.

2) A strong Christian history is also apparent in the family of John and Charles Wesley’s father. Bartholomew Wesley, John’s great-grandfather was ejected from his Dorset Churches, at Charmouth and Catherston in Devon, before the Act of Uniformity in 1662 even became law. He was then forced to leave the area altogether under the terrible FIVE MILE ACT.  He then moved to Lyme Regis, where, unable to preach in any church he practised medicine, he had studied physic, medicine and theology at Oxford, so was well qualified to practise.  He died aged 85, his wife was Anne Colley grand-daughter of Adam Loftus, primate of Ireland. 

At the same time as his father’s imprisonment, his son, also called John, who was a very brilliant scholar (Fitchett, 1906: 13) was imprisoned in 1661 for not using the Book of Common Prayer. This John had gained his M. A. in 1657 and was appointed as an Evangelist to serve the whole of the county of Devon by Oliver Cromwell’s Commission of Triers in 1658. In 1662, John lost his living at Blandford; he was treated very cruelly under the law, not even being allowed to return to his own home at Weymouth.

A good woman, found guilty of giving him lodgings, was fined £20 for the offence. 

“Often disturbed, several times apprehended, four times imprisoned,” runs his patient, melancholy record. Under the infamous Five Mile Act he was driven from one place after another, and he died, a comparatively young man, killed by the cruel temper of his time. (Fitchett, 1906:13.)  

On one of the four times, this John Wesley, was imprisoned he shared a cell with his own father, but only for a short time. Both men lost everything, when sent to prison their homes and everything they owned was taken away and given to the compromising minister who took their place.

When the Act of Conventicle 1664 was passed he became Pastor to two small Churches at Preston and Poole in Dorset, where he stayed until his death in1678. Samuel Wesley was his middle son; the youngest son was Matthew Wesley who became a London Apothecary and a Nonconformist. John’s wife was the daughter of John White who is known, even today, as the “Patriarch of Dorchester” one of the greatest preachers outside London, at that time.

Such is the background of the two Wesley brothers’ Is it, perhaps not strange that both John and Charles, entered the Church of England, a church that had so badly persecuted their own ancestors, but it was the easiest thing for them to do. What is strange is that they both, after a strong start upon the Christian life, fell into a ritualistic religious lifestyle, before they were shaken out of their ‘cold religion’, into a more heartfelt love of God when under the influence of George Whitefield’s preaching both of them then sought out a closer lifestyle with the One true and living God.

So cold was the ritualistic religious preaching of John Wesley that before he was converted there was not one Church in the whole of London that would allow him in its pulpit. Indeed, of the three great Evangelist’s, Charles Wesley, George Whitefield and John Wesley, it was only Charles Wesley who preached regularly in London. But then only at a very small number of Church of England Churches.

One is left, again, to ask a very big question, “Why did the Wesley family join the very Church that had treated their great-grand fathers’ and grand fathers’ so cruel and badly?” We can only say that they took the pathway that God had so wonderfully planed for them. Had they not joined the C of E they would not have gone to University and if they had not gone to University they would never have met up with George Whitefield and there would never have been an 18th Century Revival, our God works in many wonderful way’.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brazier Green J. 1945 John Wesley and William Law. Published for the Fernley-Hartley Trust, by The Epworth Press. London

Coxon, F. 1980 Christian Worthies Two Volumes; Zoar Publications, Osset, West York’s

Fitchett, W. H. 1906 Wesley and His Century; Abingdon Press Nashville

Gadsby J. 1882 (reprint of) Memoirs of the Principal Hymn-writers and compilers of the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries. Old Paths Gospel Press. Choteau Montana

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