John Wesley was one of Britain’s greatest evangelists. He founded the concept of outdoor preaching, led thousands upon thousands to Christ, and even started a movement that eventually became the United Methodist Church.
And to think, he almost never made it out of childhood.
On the fateful night of February 9, 1709, fire swept through the Epworth rectory that housed the Wesley family. Around midnight, Rev. Samuel Wesley was awakened by a shout from the street, “Fire!”
He flung open his bedroom door and found his home filling with smoke. He woke Susanna, his wife, and his two eldest daughters. The pastor then raced for the nursery where the family maid was sleeping with five younger children.
The abrupt entrance of Mr. Wesley and the smoke greatly startled the maid. She quickly gained presence of mind, grabbed the youngest child, Charles, and hastily urged the others to follow her lead out of the house. Three older children did.
But John remained sound asleep.
The family gathered outside the rapidly burning parsonage. A few children had climbed through windows, while other children escaped through a small door that led to the garden. Meanwhile, John remained asleep inside his upstairs bedroom.
Thinking it was morning because the light from the blaze was growing ever larger and hotter, John finally awoke and called out for the maid. His cries were heard from the street, and Samuel darted back into the house and attempted to mount the burning stairs. They quickly gave way under his weight.
Fearing John was lost, Samuel knelt down in the burning hall and commended his soul to God.
With the flames licking the ceiling of his room, John attempted to run through a doorway, but found it impossible. He then climbed onto a chest near the window and was spotted by those in the yard downstairs.
While a ladder was called for, one man stood on top of the shoulders of another and reached for the terrified child. At the exact moment John Wesley was in his rescuer’s arms, the roof came crashing down and fell inward, sending debris, smoke, and flames into the night sky.
Seeing all that had happened in just a matter of moments, Rev. Samuel cried out with a sense of relief, “Come, neighbours, 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.”
Reflecting on the life-and-death situation years later, John wrote that he was “a brand plucked from the burning.”
Just like the rest of us, God had a mighty purpose for young John.
A Real Christian: The Life of John Wesley by Kenneth J. Collins. Abingdon Press, 1999, Page 13-14.
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