John Wesley and his Wife (part 2)

Why most good churches have Marriage Preparation Courses!
And so, John Wesley was married. His strategy for being a good husband was pretty simple: ‘I cannot understand how a Methodist preacher can answer it to God to preach one sermon or travel one day less, in a married than in a single state.’

At first Molly accompanied him but his travel schedule (by any standard through all church history) was relentless, and she, as a newly married 40 year old woman, was clearly hoping for some normal domestic joys.

Often absent for weeks at a time, Wesley gave his wife permission to open all the mail that came for him. This included many letters from women seeking guidance and counsel, and Molly soon began to feel that some of them had more than a little affection towards her man.

Jealousy, slander and insensitivity
Her jealousy increased, as did her sense of being overlooked by him, and even unloved by him. She began to be, not only troubled by but gripped by jealousy.

She wrote disgruntled, critical, letters to him. She travelled to spy on him. She sent his private papers directly to his enemies that they might slander him. Eventually she publicly and repeatedly accused him of adultery over a period of twenty years.

At one point, after a fierce exchange of letters, he sent a scathing, hostile, reply.

‘Know me and know yourself. Suspect me no more, asperse me no more, provoke me no more: do not any longer contend for mastery…be content to be a private insignificant person, known and loved by God and me.’

Robert Southey, who quotes this letter, gives more of its contents, ‘He reminded her that she had laid to his charge things that he knew not, robbed him, betrayed his confidence, revealed his secrets, given him a thousand treacherous wounds, and made it her business so to do, under the pretence of vindicating her own character; ‘whereas’, said he, ‘of what importance is your character to mankind? If you were buried just now, or if you had never lived, what loss would it be to the cause of God?’

Southey adds, ‘There are few stomachs which could bear to have humility administered in such doses.’ (Robert Southey, The Life of John Wesley, Hutchinson, p.266)

Dragged along by the hair

On several occasions she left home, only returning after he begged her repeatedly. Although he had been unspeakably angry with her, he kept aiming at reconciliation.

But the home life was unhappy. John Hampson of Manchester ‘once entered a room unannounced to find Molly dragging her husband across the floor by his hair.’ (John Pollock, Wesley, Hodder, p.238)

Finally, she left for good. Wesley wryly reported in his journal, ‘I did not forsake her, I did not dismiss her, I will not recall her.’

He should have consulted with Charles. He should have asked for the wisdom of other leaders. He should have been prepared for marriage. He should have considered his wife’s needs more than his own.

In all this, the story of Wesley’s marriage is an unhappy one. But if it is uncomfortable for us to read, let’s not forget that it was far more uncomfortable for him to live. And equally uncomfortable for Molly, who, perhaps was merely hoping to have some of him for herself.

Make sure you read Part One to get the context!

The Marriage Course
If you feel you need help in your marriage, The Marriage Course, pioneered at Holy Trinity Church, London may be of help to you. Click here for links to the Course and to find one in your part of the world.
http://relationshipcentral.org/

To read the very first of the sequence of posts about Wesley’s attempts to get a bride click here and follow the links

© 2010 Lex Loizides

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21 thoughts on “John Wesley and his Wife (part 2)

  1. Hi Lex,

    What a joy to discover your blog! Being a Methodist, and having heard many stories about Mr Wesley and Molly, I immediately looked at this post. My goodness – isn’t it amazing how God can use someone who had such a broken relationship at home?

    Thanks for the lightness with which you told the tale, and the seriousness with which you direct the reader towards a responsible, loving marriage relationship!

    Rich blessing in your ministry,

    Dion

  2. You wrote: “He should have consulted with Charles. He should have asked for the wisdom of other leaders. He should have been prepared for marriage. He should have considered his wife’s needs more than his own.”

    If Charles had minded his own business and had not been so caught up with class issues, John might have been happily married to someone else.

    I know it’s a bit late to comment on this blog but the idea of brothers counseling each other on who to marry is a very bad idea indeed. It often does not end well at all. -C

  3. It is hard to judge objectively. Life in those days was gruelling, their flock being poor hard working folk. As a founder and leader he would have wanted to serve as a role model to other preachers who thought nothing of walking miles to preach as well as keeping a trade and sustaining a family, delivering messages that today we would find hard and strict. The diary of one of those preachers, Victory Purdy, (see attached link) records that he was so poor that on one occasion John Wesley gave him one of his suits, suggesting John to be kind, thoughtful, and supportive. Had he NOT urged on those early preachers we may never have seen the resulting Church growth. Perhaps today we (speaking more for myself) just have it all too soft. Blessing to all readers – Phil

  4. My question is what do we think God’s desire was of John’s behaviour. Once he found himself in a bad situation, should he have forsaken his ministry to spend time at home ?

    Any thoughts ?

  5. It took two to have this tango – and I frankly tire of Molly Wesley being blamed for all of their troubles. John neglected his wife, period. Molly reacted. John married a sinner and so did Molly. Both of them would have done better to study Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3 and 1 Corinthians 7 than worry about Christian perfection. Please don’t blame her for John’s choices (including the choice to marry – I haven’t read or heard a peep as to whether or not John sought the Lord before marrying – she didn’t force him and neither did the Lord Jesus).

  6. He really should have paid more attention to his wife. All the same, he was truly a great man of God, the life of any man of God cannot be void of error.

  7. This is a perfect example of why Paul instructed men not to marry because your loyalties, your time, your commitments, will be shared. Unfortunately, Molly, like most women, when left too long, begin to feel unwanted and react out of fear, anger and jealousy.

  8. While I don’t support Molly for her misbehaviour towards her husband, it’s clear from Wesley’s attitude towards her that he (wesley) didn’t properly prepare for marriage. I think the enemy entrapped him in ignorance. This is a warning for all who are mindful of ministry, business, or career than marriage. O Lord guide me aright lest I am entrapped by my enemy.

  9. It is clear that John Wesley did not love his wife as himself, as Jesus through Paul taught us to. And because his wife was not deriving ANY benefit from his mission, except his absence, and the privilege of evidence of his care and concern for a bevy of other women’s needs for his advice counsel, and spiritual provision; AND on top of the fact that she brought the money to the relationship and that was about all she was regarded for by John here, I am thinking this guy was a jerk. You know it is possible to be an amazing missionary for Christ and still totally miss the mark of being obedient to Him, or of knowing Him. Many will come on that day and say, “Lord Lord…” and He will say ” I never knew you.” I think that is also how John Wesley’s wife felt about him and that is why she left. He did not love her and she knew it. Women are smart like that.
    The primary problem you have on this site is that your theology of marriage is incomplete, because you are not Roman Catholic. Only the Roman Catholic Church has the real deal on the sacrament of matrimony, its intent as a sacrament- or means of sanctification, its order and its ends. When you have those parameters, you can pretty clearly see where the lines are supposed to be in how men and women relate to one another and how they deal with the stresses of married life and with the call to live for Christ and to evangelize the world for Him and for His glory. I think between Wesley (J) and Carey you have prime examples of men who failed as husbands and succeeded as missionaries. Therein we have a problem- but the greater problem is that we would at any time say, “oh well the ends justify the means.” That is completely wrong and outside of God’s will. We are required to be and do both- live for Christ and fulfill our duties in marriage to live sacrificially for our spouses- and by our partnership refine and sanctify one another, AND to apply ourselves to changing the world for Christ as apostles.

  10. I couldn’t agree more with Jo. Husbands are commanded to love their wives as Christ loved the church…yes, he gave it all; everything to bring us to Himself. Over the past 10 years, I have been learning what it means to love my wife as Christ loved me. After 18 years of marriage, my wife left me tired of my anger, manipulation and control. I was crushed thinking I was doing all the right things to give her a comfortable life with nice stuff. I came to the end of myself crying out to God to take everything…i was tired and gave up. That event began a journey of seeking God and experiencing the truth of Matt 10:39 (losing my life to find it)….getting into God’s Word in a growing relationship with Jesus and the body of Christ. I had many idols in my life including my wife, family, a comfortable life rooted in sin/selfishness to satisfy my desire for validation. Over the past 8 years, events in my home went from bad to worse. I’m currently living in a home with a wife who has given up on me and hopes for our marriage as life’s challenges press in on us…the unforgiveness, anger, bitterness, accusations, rejection and loneliness is brutal. I suppose that’s why I was driven to the story of John Wesley’s marriage. I choose to stay and love my wife..she is my ministry as I look beyond the anger and accusations to see a wounded heart as God sees. Even though God has born a ministry to other men out of this mess, my first ministry is to my wife. He has shown me a way of thriving that begins with putting my relationship with Jesus first…surrendering to Him and dying to self…out of that has come strength, endurance, love, thanksgiving, praise and joy in the midst of calamity and storms. He is my refuge and is using a most difficult marriage to sanctify and show others Christ’s love…Romans 5:1-8.

  11. Dear Sirs,

    Where can I find the documentary support that John Wesley’s wife did drag him by the hair?

  12. I did a report on John Wesley and he was an amazing man. It is true his marriage was not what he expected but he did not leave his wife. He followed God’s laws and remained faith ful to her. Many say he should have spent more time with her but she also should have given of herself to help his calling prosper. It was a gruelling ministry and she knew who he was. There needed to be a little more give and take on both sides but his ministry was most important. His wife did not remain true to the path God had set for her but gave up her faith to become jealous and stray away from God. She did not enter into the marriage without all of the facts and therefore should have sipported her husband’s ministry instead of trying to take it apart.

  13. What Molly would have done was to pray more and be more submissive to the husband. Before marriage, she knew the man she was getting married to and she obviously knew that, the husband was a traveling Evangelist. So her main role in this marriage was to support her husband in ministry and be by his site at all times. She failed in her role as preacher,s wife. Prayers and communication would have changed the situation but she chose another method which destroyed the marriage. This is therefore a guide for both christian men and women in marriage to base their marriage on a solid foundation which is Christ Jesus.

  14. Encouraged by the write up.i have learnt some fundamental truth to a happy marriage and home.All comments helpful and beneficial.

  15. It has always seemed to me that, however unwise JW’s choice in brides was, however unwise the whole business became and remained, that he considered the needs of the Church, and the imperatives of the ministry of the gospel of Christ, to be greater than the needs of his wife. If he is to be criticized for his actions, let her be criticized thrice as straightly. Did she not know whom she was marrying? Did she not know that she was marrying a called man? Not an accountant, not an attorney, not a carpenter, or a salesman, but a pastor among pastors. Would she have been his idol? To have taken priority over his work, in this respect, would have made her precisely that. Payne Emelda’s comments above are quite right, and Wesley’s attitude in the end seems to have been equally right. She departed of her own free will after spending years attacking, demeaning, and striving to destroy the work of his hands, work he was doing for God. Ultimately, he was better off without her.

    I say this not lightly. There are many preachers of the gospel today who have been, or who are yet in similar situations. They and their recalcitrant wives all need our prayers.

  16. Pingback: “Is She A Doubler?” | A New Name

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