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SOME ACCOUNT OF MRS. SARAH, WESLEY,
(RELICT OF THE REV. CHARLES WESLEY, M. A.) Who departed this life, December 28th, 1822, aged Ninety-Six,
Mrs. CHARLES WESLEY was the daughter of the late MARMADUKE GWYNNE, Esq., of Breconshire, South Wales.-From her childhood she evinced a deep sense of religion; and received the Lord's Supper when she was only fourteen years old.
Mr. Gwynne, was an upright, pious man, strenuously attached to the Church of England. He was eminently kind to his tenantry, beneficent to the poor, and exemplary in all the relations of life. He retained a Chaplain in his house, who daily read the morning and evening service in it; the church being distant, and only open on Sundays.
When Mr. HowEL HARRIS began his itinerant preaching in South Wales, (which was some years before the Mr. WESLEYS visited that part of the country,) Mr. GWYNNE was alarmed at reports of an innovation in the church; and imagining that this Howel Harris might hold the tenets ascribed to the Independent Dissenters under OLIVER Cromwell's reign, and be an in-. cendiary in Church and State, he, being a Magistrate, determined to put an end to these portentous irregularities. For this. purpose he sallied out one day; but said to his Lady on going,. "I will hear the man myself before I commit him.” Accordingly he made one of the congregation, with the Riot-Act in his pocket.
The sermon was so truly evangelical, so calculated to arouse the careless, to alarm the wicked, and to encourage the penitent, and the Preacher's manner was so zealous and affectionate, that Mr. Gwynne thought he resembled one of the Apostles. He was so convinced of the purity of his doctrines, and of the benevolence of his motive, that, at the end of the discourse he went up to Howel Harris; shook him by the hand; told him how much he had been misled by slanderous reports; avowed his intention of committing him, had they been true ; asked his pardon; and, to the amazement of the assembly, entreated him to accompany him back to Garth to supper.'
Mrs. GWYNNE, his Lady, was a worthy woman, endowed with a superior understanding, and distinguished by her love of the poor, whom she supplied regularly with food, clothing, and medicine; but she had the strong prejudices of birth and fortune. . She was one of six heiresses : each of whom had £30,000 for their portion, and had married into suitable families of high descent and splendour. She was a violent enemy to all Presbyte
rians; and when her husband returned, introducing to her HOWEL Harris,-a man of the inferior class, (for in Wales there are but two classes of Society,) an innovator in the Church, and a rebel to the King,—when she heard Mr. Gwynne himself in the presence of his whole family, entreat his forgiveness, acknowledge his error, and pay him as much respect as he would pay to a Bishop, - she thought that her poor dear husband must have lost his senses; and in grief and consternation she quitted the room, oor would return to it till after supper, and till HowEL HARRIS had departed.
The authority and countenance of Mr. GWYNNE was of much importance to the ministry of this good man; who would have suffered persecution from the higher orders, had he not been so strenuously supported by one of them, who valiantly stood forth in his defence, regardless of public and private censure.--It is worthy to be recorded, that if the same scenes of outrage and barbarity through which the Rev. Messrs. John and CHARLES WESLEY, and many of their Preachers, passed, (scenes promoted by some of the Clergy, and often unchecked by the Magistrates of that day,) did not occur in Breconshire, South Wales, it was, under the divine blessing, solely owing to MARMADUKE GWYNNE.
His young daughter, Saray, delighted to accompany him to hear Howel Harris, whom he constantly attended; her mind was open to receive all good; and she was particularly blessed under his sermons. Her pious dispositions exposed her to the raillery of her gay brothers and sisters; and her partiality to this Itinerant Preacher incurred the displeasure of her mother, who passed much of her time in tears at the infatuation of her family. Nor was she reconciled to Methodism till she had perused the “ Appeals” of Mr. John Wesley, and heard the character of the two brothers from some of their colleagues at Oxford, which convinced her that their intentions must be good, and, at last, that their usefulness was great. Indeed, till then she would not hear
Howel HARRIS. On the arrival of Mr. John WESLEY in South · Wales, Mr. Gwynne invited him to Garth, where he was most
cordially welcomed by Mrs. Gwynne also. Her remaining prejudices were conquered by his conversation; and he preached in the hall, where the audience was great. There were seldom less than ten or fifteen guests residing in the house; and there were eight sons and daughters, and twenty servants, besides neighbouring tenants, who were admitted to hear him.'
It was two years afterwards that Mr. CHARLES Wesley came there, to whom the whole family seemed immediately united. The servants were deeply affected by his discourses, which he delivered every day while he stayed, either in the hall or the churches. The nurse, Grace Bowen, (always a serious person, became eminently useful, and zealous in the cause. It was on her that the funeral hymn was composed, which begins :
“ Stay, thou triumphant spirit, stay,
Where pain can never come. Her character and happy death are fully described in the remaining verses of that hymn, which contains a true portrait of a Christian, and one of the old Methodists.
It was two years after this visit, that Mr. CHARLES WESLEY, with the entire consent of both her parents, espoused their daughter Miss SARAH GWYNNE; who, without reluctance, sacrificed earthly splendour, and the distinctions of wealth, to become the wife of a pious Minister. . She had never cause to regret, nor was she ever known to regret, her change of situation and habits of kife. In the affection and society, the example and protection, of one of the best of husbands, she deemed herself richly remunerated for the loss of worldly honours; and she ever highly estimated the privilege of being acquainted with eminent Christians in lower states,—those " of whom the world is not worthy."During the first years of their marriage, she accompanied Mr. CHARLES WESLEY in his travels to the North, where their accommodations usually formed a striking contrast to the luxuries in which she had been bred. She would sometimes speak of them with a smile ; always dwelling on the tender attentions of her husband on these occasions, who, she said, “felt for her so much more than she did for herself.” In Norwich, a violent mob collected, through which it was deemed adviseable that she should pass with a lady who came with her, rather than with her husband, who was the object of their vengeance, while he braved it. Happily (she said) her insignificance secured her; (she was low in stature ;) but her poor friend, (COLONEL Galatin's lady, of majestic height and appearance, being taken for the wife of Mr, WESLEY, was separated from her side, and sorely annoyed by the rabble. But all providentially arrived at their lodgings unhurt. It was pleasing to witness the satisfaction with which she related these hardships, as others would term them.
When they hired a house in Bristol, where Mr. CHARLES WESLEY became stationary, they entertained the Preachers; and often she remarked, that she had never met with persons better behaved, or more agreeable inmates; they were so many eminent proofs how well divine grace could supply the fictitious aid of education and high breeding. They were most humble, obliging, simple-hearted men who lived above the world.” JOHN NELSON and John DOWNES were amongst her guests.
She caught the small pox four years after her marriage, in which disease the late CounteSS OF HUNTINGDON came to attend her; which confirmed a friendship they had formed before, and of which she never spoke without the most lively gratitude. It ended
* See WESLEY's Funeral Hymns, Hymn xiii., p. 85. Vol. VI.
but with life. During her illness, Mr. CHARLES WESLEY was with his brother in London, who was then supposed to be near death. It was a trying season to both; for he could not, on the first inforination, leave the chapels and the congregations; and every post, he feared, would bring him intelligence that his beloved wife was no more. She was for twenty-two days in imminent danger. He rode down to visit her twice, at the risk of his own health, and returned to serve the public. His first babe, a lovely son under two years, took the infection from his mother, and was buried before his return home. Some of his affecting Funeral Hymns, written on this occasion, describe a father's sufferings, and express his tender gratitude for the spared life of the mother. When Mrs. Wesley recovered, the alteration of her features was so great, that no one could recognize her; which, she would sportively say, “afforded great satisfaction to her dear husband, who was glad to see her look so much older, and better suited to be his companion.” There was nearly twenty years' difference in their ages. Never did a female less regret her loss of beauty ;a circumstance indicative of no common mind. She was then twenty-six. But over her interesting, her first-born child, she mourned in deepest sorrow. Four children, after this, she buried; and then raised an earnest prayer to the ALMIGHTY, that she might never live to see the death of another. Three she had after; and when any of them fell sick, she was wonderfully supported by the hope and trust that her prayer had been accepted, and that she never should weep over the grave of another child. She never did.
To Mr. WHITEFIELD she was particularly attached; and he had a strong friendship for her. She stipulated, before marriage, when controversies rose high, that she should be permitted to hear him, and any other pious Gospel-Ministers of that persuasion; and often, in her latter years, did she express pleasure in the belief, that she promoted the continuance of that endearing intercourse which subsisted between that good man and her husband, softened all parties, and was on all occasions a blessed peacemaker.
In the eighty-seventh year of her age, she was required to give her testimony in a law-suit, commenced by a lawyer, on an unjust claim upon her son. Her statement on that occasion was so clear and satisfactory, that, corroborated by other witnesses, it gained the cause; so unimpaired were her faculties at that advanced age. Had the cause been tried in Westminster-Hall, the expenses would have wholly devolved on the lawyer; but hearing that he would have been struck off the Rolls for his conduct, the family preferred arbitration. Some time afterwards he was struck off the Rolls, for similar dealings, and when she heard it, in the most fervent manner, she thanked God that she had not been the cause of his ruin. The same spirit of lenity characterized all her actions; she had been cheated by a confidential servant to the amount of thirty pounds; her drawers were broken open, and her plate stolen ; but her whole anxiety was, lest she should be called upon to prosecute the thief,---who ran away, to the heart-felt satisfaction of her kind, though injured mistress.
Her amiable manners and cheerful spirits endeared her to all with whom she had any intercourse: her hospitality was unbounded, and verged to excess; and her tenderness led her to an extreme of indulgence in the education of her children; yet, on the most trying occasion to maternal sensibility, she manifested the Christian, for no murmur escaped her lips.
St. Paul's advice, “Wives, honour your husbands," was never better observed by any wife. She was so jealous of the honour of her beloved husband, so sensible of any thing which she conceived a slight, or omission of due respect, that her displeasure was marked towards any person whom she thought to have failed in this point: and often would Mr. CHARLES WESLEY, whose humility was a striking virtue in his character, gently expostulate with her by saying, “Enviest thou for my sake,” and condemn what he called, “her excessive partiality.”
Her reading had been confined to religious books: she relished no other. History, she said, was only a narration of the wickedness of man, without any reference by the writers to the remedy provided. Controversial works she detested; yet in theology she was well versed; and could enumerate the errors of various sects with admirable sagacity. Love for the poor, and pity for the wicked, were prominent features in her character; indeed, such was her tenderness to the fallen, that many rigid moralists supposed she leaned to Antinomianism. Yet nothing could be further from her principles; as her words, and her whole blameless life, attested. When she heard of a crime, and the relators of it expressed their abhorrence and indignation, her usual remark was, that the heart of every human being would be capable of the same, if divine grace did not prevent. If any reminded her of her pious youth, and the sacrifices she had made in that period of life, instantly she checked them, by observing, “My only plea is, •God be merciful to me a sinner!'” She was indeed of a humble mind, and of a timid nature. The fear of God, reverence for his word, and delight in his sanctuary, were the prominent characteristics of her religion. Her's was " the trembling hope;" but it was founded on the Rock. Her sense of original depravity was so deep, that it led her (whenever she spoke of herself) to use words of self-abasement which astonished the pharisee and the unconverted.
She always had a sort of fear of death; but no symptoms of this fear appeared in her last illness. Her nights were painfully restless, though she had no disease. She seemed (she said) to be harassed by the enemy; and her prayers were affectingly fer