Thursday, June 21, 2012

Susanna Wesley on rearing children

Susanna Wesley
Susanna Wesley (1669-1742) was the mother of John and Charles Wesley. Through much adversity, including a rocky marriage and constant financial struggles, Susanna persevered in her calling as a mother.

Her husband Samuel struggled to make ends meet as a young Anglican parish priest in England. By the time they found a parish which paid enough to live, they were mired in debt. Unfortunately, Samuel was also a poor money manager and was jailed twice for unpaid debts. Their home burned to the ground twice, and of her 19 children, Susanna lost nine in infancy, including two sets of twins.

Despite his love for her and his commitment to Christ, Samuel was blind to his faults. At times he was tyrannical and despotic at home. Once after a minor disagreement, he abandoned Susanna and their several children for an entire year.

To her absent husband, Susanna Wesley wrote: “I am a woman, but 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 charge as a talent committed to me under a trust. I am neither a man nor a minister, yet as a mother and a mistress I felt I ought to do more than I had yet done. I resolved to begin with my own children.”

After their second house burned to the ground, she was forced to place her children in different homes for two years. When Susanna managed to get her family back together, she was mortified at their behavior, their improper speech, and their preference for play rather than study.[1] Immediately she decided to do something about it. 

Susanna dedicated her life to instilling a sense of Christian destiny and worldview into each of her children by teaching them the Word of God and adding classical studies including Latin and Greek. Her children went on to change the world. John Wesley, said of his mother, “I learned more about Christianity from my mother than from all of the theologians in England.”

Susanna Wesley believed that for a child to grow into a self-disciplined adult, he/she must first be a parent-disciplined child. To her, the stubborn flesh was the hardest battle for Christians to fight, and Godly parents would do well to equip their children to overcome it early.

These are Susanna Wesley’s 16 Rules laid down in her home.
1. Eating between meals is not allowed.
2. As children they are to be in bed by 8 p.m.
3. They are required to take medicine without complaining.
4. Subdue self-will in a child, and this working together with God may save the child's soul.
5. Teach a child to pray as soon as he can speak.
6. Require all to be still during Family Worship.
7. Give them nothing that they cry for, and only that when asked for politely.
8. To prevent lying, punish no fault which is first confessed and repented of.
9. Never allow a sinful act to go unpunished.
10. Never punish a child twice for a single offense.
11. Commend and reward good behavior.
12. Any attempt to please, even if poorly performed, should be commended.
13. Preserve property rights, even in smallest matters.
14. Strictly observe all promises.
15. Require no daughter to work before she can read well.
16. Teach children to fear the rod. 

Susanna wrote: When the will of a child is totally subdued, and it is brought to revere and stand in awe of the parents, then a great many childish follies may be passed by.  I insist on the conquering of the will of children betimes, because this is the only strong and rational foundation of a religious education. When this is thoroughly done, then a child is capable of being governed by reason and piety.[2]

Susanna assembled her children on Sunday afternoons for family services. They sang a psalm and then Susanna read a sermon from either her husband's or father's sermon file followed by another psalm. The local people began to attend, and at one point over 200 people attended Susanna’s Sunday afternoon services.

Susanna Wesley lived just long enough to see the fruits of her work; two months before she died in July 1742, her son John preached a series of revival messages in their home town of Epworth, England, to the biggest crowds that area had ever seen. The blossoming ministry of John and Charles would impact generations to come for the Gospel of Christ.

John Wesley later led the Great Awakening in England while his brother Charles wrote hymns, many of which are still sung today such as “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” and the Christmas classic, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” The many new converts in the Awakening needed discipled as believers. The Wesleys’ methods of discipleship which they learned from their mother earned them the derogatory catcall of Methodist. Thus Susanna Wesley is known as the Mother of Methodism.

Shortly before she died at age seventy-three, Susanna wrote her son Charles to describe her faith. She admitted that for years she struggled with doubt and confusion about her salvation, but that she finally had complete peace. "When I had forgotten God, yet I then 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."

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 24:  The tombstone ...
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 24: The tombstone of Susanna Wesley, mother of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism in the Bunhill Fields cemetery, which has been awarded Grade 1 listed status on February 24, 2011 in Islington, London, England. The cemetery, located close to the heart of the City of London is notable for containing the graves of many noncomformists and other notable people. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)
With her family gathered around her bedside during her final illness, she said: "Children, as soon as I am released, sing a psalm of praise to God." Her grave marker reads in part: ". . . A Christian here her flesh laid down, the cross exchanging for a crown."[3]