John Wesley Plucked as a Brand
JOHN WESLEY’S FATHER Samuel was a Church of England rector at Epworth. Few people attended the town’s only church. For the most part, the parish consisted of rough folk, and Samuel was not popular with them. Parishioners mutilated his animals and endangered his family. So hostile were some of them that on this night, 9 February 1709, they set the rectory (parsonage) on fire.
All of the family and servants escaped except five-year-old John, who had slept through the commotion. His nursery was directly under the flaming roof. He awoke and his frightened face appeared at the window, crying for help. Samuel made his way back into the house, but the flaming staircase crumbled under his weight. His wife Susanna tried entering through a second door, but the flames were overpowering. It seemed John was doomed because there was no time to fetch a ladder.
At that desperate moment, a couple of brawny neighbors heaved a light man onto the shoulders of a big fellow and stood him upright, creating a human ladder. The rescuer snatched John out of the window just seconds before the roof collapsed. Rejoicing aloud that all their children were safe, Samuel and Susanna soon found another home and continued to minister in the hostile town.
Haunted for years by that terrifying experience, Wesley wondered why he had been saved as a “brand plucked from burning.” Years later the answer became evident when the Lord used Wesley to carry the message of reform to England. He rode thousands of miles (as many as twenty thousand a year), preaching as only a man filled with the Holy Spirit can preach, sharing the gospel with all who would listen. One biographer said he acted “as though he were out of breath in pursuit of souls.”
Almost everywhere that Wesley preached, people changed for the better. Societies of his converts, known as Methodists, became a national force. It is sometimes conjectured that the Wesleyan revival spared England the kind of bloody revolution that occurred in France.