WHAT’S OLD IS NEW AGAIN
“On many accounts I should recommend to you marriage, rather than celibacy. You are of a social temper, and would find in a married state the difficulties of working out your salvation exceedingly lessened, and your helps as much increased.”
These are some of the last words that General James Oglethorpe spoke to Rev. Charles Wesley prior to Wesley leaving the American colonies forever. Intentions to marry off a single minister? Whoever heard of such a thing?! What’s Old Is New Again.
Charles Wesley hadn’t been entirely sure that coming to the American colonies was a good idea but his older brother John convinced him otherwise. “I took my degree, and only thought of spending all my days in Oxford,” Charles recalled years later. “But my brother, who always had the ascendant over me, persuaded me to accompany him and Mr. Oglethorpe to Georgia. I exceedingly dreaded entering into Holy Orders but he over-ruled me here also, and I was ordained deacon by the Bishop of Oxford, and the next Sunday, priest by the Bishop of London.”
Charles Wesley’s time working for General Oglethorpe at Fort Frederica was truly horrific, and only a few weeks after landing on St. Simons Island, Charles wrote in his journal, “My few well-wishers are afraid to speak to me. Some have turned out of the way to avoid me. Others desired I would not take it ill, if they seemed not to know me when we should meet. The servant that used to wash my linen sent it back unwashed.” Wesley’s time with Oglethorpe was marred by rumors, suspicions, and ill treatment of the young rector. Oglethorpe refused Wesley a proper tent, any kind of bed, and the use of a tea kettle during the summer he lived at Fort Frederica. Charles wrote in his journal, “My brother brought me of a resolution which honour and indignation had formed, of starving rather than asking for necessaries.” By the end of July, 1736, Charles Wesley sailed out of Savannah and would never return to America.
However, I find General Oglethorpe’s final advice to this young minister, newly out of university and ordained, wonderful. Charles was in fact of a social temper, much more so than his older brother John, and Oglethorpe, with his experience in the military and Parliament, seems to forgive Charles of all the doubts and tribulations and leaves him with fatherly wisdom. The difficulties of working out one’s salvation are exceedingly lessened with a loving partner and the help Charles would derive from this happy union would increase.
Thirteen years after Charles Wesley left America, he would marry Sarah Gwynne and they would spend the rest of his life together. Charles described his proposal to Sarah, known as Sally, in this manner, “At night my dearest Sally, like my guardian angel attended me. In the loving openness of my heart, without premeditation I asked her ‘if she could trust herself with me for life,’ and with a noble simplicity she readily answered me ‘she could.’” On his wedding day, Charles wrote in his journal, “Not a cloud was to be seen from morning till night. I rose at four; spent three hours and a half in prayer, or singing, with my brother, with Sally, with Becky. At eight I led MY SALLY to church.”
Their lives were not what one would call easy or simple. Sarah, who came from a wealthy Welsh family, overlooked Charles’s meager finances to accept his marriage proposal. Of their eight children, only three survived infancy and Sarah was left unrecognizable by a bout with smallpox which she is lucky to have survived. Charles, having been born prematurely, was known to be often sick and stopped traveling great distances in 1756 due to his illnesses, but their marriage is thought to be one of the few happy unions in the Wesley family. Sarah would travel with the brothers while they ministered to the newly formed Methodist societies and would care for Charles when he fell ill.
So, for all the newly graduated and ordained Methodist ministers, may I offer General James Oglethorpe’s advice from 1736. “I should recommend to you marriage, rather than celibacy. You are of a social temper, and would find in a married state the difficulties of working out your salvation exceedingly lessened.”
Anne Packard serves as Conference Historian and director of the Arthur J. Moore Methodist Museum on St. Simons Island. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.