Sunday, August 30, 2009

Charles Wesley - Reflections 3

I'm making my way through the biography of Charles Wesley by John R. Tyson. I want to highlight two chapters that showed Wesley's great love--first for his family and second for the Church of England.

Charles and Sally Wesley had eight children. Of those eight only three survived infancy. On one occasion Charles received a letter from Sally informing him of the death of their son John James. She wrote, "This comes to acquaint you that our dear little babe is no more, his agony is over, but it was a hard struggle before he could depart. He was dying all yesterday from ten o'clock; about nine last night he departed." Charles wrote back for Sally to pray "Father, not as I will, but as thou wilt." In this he said, "God, who knoweth whereof we are made, and considereth that we are but dust, will, for Christ's sake, accept our weakest, most imperfect, desires of resignation. I know, the surest way to preserve our children, is to trust them with Him who loves them infinitely better than we do." (209) To read this too quickly would be a tragedy. No doubt the pain went deep. But not so deep as to shake the faith of this father who believed that God still loved his children better than he did. I could only imagine him holding this letter in his hand with a tear- stained face and the added pain of not being able to be there to console his dear wife. For some what Charles wrote will seem as little more than platitudes. But they are not. They are the thoughts of a man who was deeply entrenched in the love of God and, perhaps more importantly, his knowledge of God's for him. The saints of God are not immune to the deepest pain this world has to offer.

Frequently separated from Sally the letters between them are a living testimony of their love and devotion. Charles was sometimes frustrated that Sally did not write as much as he did. They agreed to pray for each other daily at 5:00 p.m. (202) Charles did feel a tension between his work and being separated from Sally and the kids and wrote about it often. And true to course Charles wrote hymns on virtually everything--on the occasion of their anniversary to children cutting teeth. (202 & 206) He even wrote a hymn about a family cat! (207) I was disappointed to read that he "apparently believed that to show the children his favor would spoil them." (209) But love them he did. When Charles Wesley Jr. began to show interest in music he encouraged him to pursue his desires in spite of protests from those who thought this was inappropriate and worldly. He encouraged his daughter in her poetry (but expressed concern about her wearing high heels since they made her "more liable to fall"). (212)

Wesley's marriage was a happy one. The same could not be said of John. Charles struggled with the balance of the needs of the ministry and his families needs. It became a source on tension between the two brothers. But another issue would threaten to separate the brothers even more--the issue of the Church of England.

The issue of whether the Methodist should separate from the Church of England was a source of tension between Charles and John. The issue of separation for Charles was a non-negotiable. Tyson notes that "he considered support for the Church of England an implicit requirement for membership in the Methodist societies." (215) At the heart of the issue was the desire on the part of the lay preachers to distribute the sacraments. This they could not do without the proper ordination from the Church. Charles began to refer to them as "Melchisedechians," that is, "an order of priesthood without lineage or genealogy." (218-19) In time Charles seriously contemplated leaving Methodism if they were to separate from the Church. (224 & 227) Through all of this John was convinced that his brother was "overreacting about the potential for schism" and even said Charles was guilty of bigotry. (224 & 226) For some, however, a schism with the Church already existed. The mere existence of lay preachers was itself a form of separation.

Tyson summarizes this chapter with the words of one early Methodist preacher, Adam Clarke, who said, "Mr. J. Wesley mildly recommended the people to go to the Church and Sacrament. Mr. C. Wesley threatened them with damnation if they did not." ( emphasis his, 229)

At the end of the day I saw Charles as a man of passion for both his family and his church. He loved them both and desired the best for both. He was not blind to the faults of the church but "his criticisms were usually tinged with compassion and love." (216) Current criticisms of the church today could learn much from Wesley.

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