Wesley wanted to marry Grace Murray, a 32 year old widow and devoted servant of God. She was a Methodist, so called, in the best sense of the term. In August of 1748 Wesley proposed to her. She replied, “This is too great a blessing for me; I can’t tell how to believe it. This is all I could have wished for under heaven.” As a bachelor, trust me, those words would sound like music from heaven to my unmarried ears.
However, there were two problems, both of them men: the first was one of his Methodist preachers, John Bennet, and the second, tragically, was his very own brother, Charles Wesley.
Wesley wanted to marry her but Grace Murray believed she was duty-bound to marry John Bennet instead because he loved her so much. However, during a time of ministry in Ireland with Wesley she accepted his marriage proposal.
Back in England, though, Bennet came to talk to Wesley about the matter. Wesley then felt she should marry Bennet but Murray wanted Wesley to be her husband. Problem one appeared to be solved.
Problem two, however, was just beginning. John Wesley wanted to appease John Bennet and get Charles' blessing, as well as announce his intended matrimony to the Methodist societies. This brought about the downfall of his plans--at the hands of Charles Wesley, the famous hymn writer for the Great Awakening.
In socially conscious England, it bothered Charles that she came from a servant class--that is, socially beneath them. He further worried that this could cause a scandal and schism in the Methodist societies with preachers ditching the movement. John Wesley didn't care about her class, he cared about her heart. He was going to marry Grace Murray. Period.
Then Charles did something that I find unthinkable; he personally went to Grace and tried to split up the engaged couple. He rode with her to Newcastle where she asked Bennet for forgiveness. A week later Murray and Bennet were married.
Perhaps as a 21st century American I simply can't appreciate the gravity of social classes in 18th century England but it totally bewilders me that Charles would do this to his brother. Lesser men would never forgive a brother for this. John records his depressed state in a letter to Charles.
Leeds, October 7, 1749This letter saddens me almost 257 years later. Charles Wesley crushed his brother's heart.
My dear Brother,---Since I was six years old, I never met with such a severe trial as for some days past. For ten years God has been preparing a fellow laborer for me by a wonderful train of providences. Last year I was convinced of it; therefore I delayed not, but, as I thought, made all sure beyond a danger of disappointment. But we were soon after torn asunder by a whirlwind. In a few months the storm was over; I then used more precaution than before and fondly told myself that the day of evil would return no more. But it too soon returned. The waves rose again since I came out of London. I fasted and prayed and strove all I could; but the sons of Zeruiah were too hard for me. The whole world fought against me, but above all my own familiar friend. Then was the word fulfilled, ‘Son of man, behold, I take from thee the desire of thine eyes at a stroke; yet shalt thou not lament, neither shall thy tears run down.’
The fatal, irrevocable stroke was struck on Tuesday last. Yesterday I saw my friend (that was) and him to whom she is sacrificed. I believe you never saw such a scene. But ‘why should a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?’
I am, yours affectionately,
Since I come from another century, another age and another society I can't say if others considered Charles as right or wrong but I can imagine it felt horrendous to John.
Still, John found his dream of a lost love forever gone but kept his brother in his ministry.
Because he was John Wesley.