Eleven-year-old Hetty was sleeping soundly in her bed when, at 11:30 p.m., she was awakened by something falling on her blanket. It was pieces of the ceiling and the roof above—and they were on fire! Bolting from her bed, Hetty rushed to find her father, Samuel.
Unknown to Hetty, her father had already been awakened by a commotion outside—someone was yelling, “Fire!” Not realizing it was his own house that was burning, Samuel had risen to investigate. Opening the door of the room, he was confronted by flames in the hallway.
The house was a wooden structure, and the flames were consuming it quickly. The roof was imploding into the second-floor rooms as Samuel and his wife, Susanna, frantically tried to gather their eight children and escape. (One other child, Samuel Jr., was away at school.)
Susanna was pregnant and had been sleeping in a different room from her husband because she felt unwell. She escaped down the stairs with her two oldest daughters. A live-in servant broke an upstairs window and escaped with Hetty and another sibling. Another servant rushed to the nursery to get one-year-old Charles and five-year-old Jacky. Scooping up Charles, the servant told Jacky to follow her and headed for the hallway and stairs. But when she arrived in the garden, little Jacky was nowhere to be seen. He had started out of the room behind the nurse but turned back when he saw the flames.
Samuel attempted several times to reach young Jacky, but he could not penetrate the flames. Convinced they had lost their son, the family prayed and asked God to receive his soul.
But the outcome was far better. Jacky had retreated back into his room and gone to the window, where he was seen by members of the crowd below. With no ladder at hand, one man stood on another’s shoulders and reached up, pulling Jacky through the window to safety. The house and all the family’s possessions were a total loss. Yet something far greater was saved—a husband, a wife, and their children.
As the flames consumed their home, Samuel called out to the crowd: “Come, neighbors! Let us kneel down! Let us give thanks to God! He has given me all my eight children. Let the house go—I am rich enough!”1
That night, he could not have known how prophetic his words were. Not only did God give Samuel and Susanna Wesley all their children despite the flames, He gave the church two of her most powerful voices: Charles and John “Jacky” Wesley. Being saved from that fire had a profound impact on five-year-old John Wesley. His mother, Susanna, would subsequently refer to John as a “brand plucked from the burning,” a reference to Zechariah 3:2: “Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?”2
If you’re familiar with John Wesley as a historical figure, you know his life was full of ups and downs. His father was an Anglican priest and his mother was diligent in teaching her children spiritual truths. John himself joined the Anglican church as a priest, even sailing to the New World, America, to serve as a pastor to British colonists in Georgia. Yet he struggled with doubt and was at times deeply aware of his own hypocrisy and lack of faith. Wesley stumbled into forming a new denomination, the Methodist Church, without ever intending to do so. Even as his movement grew, Wesley and his followers became victims of persecution by the official Church of England, which escalated into physical attacks.
Throughout these ups and downs, John Wesley carried a sense within himself that God had rescued him from his family’s burning house for a purpose. Even during the downs, he felt a strong sense of God’s presence and ultimate direction in his life.
David Jeremiah, God Has Not Forgotten You: He Is with You, Even in Uncertain Times (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2021).
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