QUOTE: A good picture of John Wesley’s boyhood is gained from Susanna Wesley’s account of the training of her children, written at his request on July 24th, 1732.t That training may be said to have begun with the children’s birth. Even during the first three months of their life, which were mostly spent in sleep, they were dressed and undressed and their clothes were changed at fixed times. After that period they were, if possible, laid in the cradle awake and rocked to sleep. Until the children were brought into a proper course of sleeping this rocking continued up to the time fixed for them to awake. At first three hours were allowed in the morning, three in the afternoon; then the time was reduced to two hours, until at last they needed no sleep during the day. The children were taught to fear the rod when they were only a year old and to cry softly. By this means the Epworth Parsonage, though full of children, was as quiet as if there had not been one in the house.
As soon as possible, the little table and chairs were set near the family dinner-table, where they could be easily overlooked. The children were taught to ask softly for anything they wanted and to eat whatever was provided for the family. As soon as they could handle a knife and fork they sat at the table with their parents. No eating or drinking between meals was allowed. Evening prayers were over at six o’clock. The children then had supper, and at seven o’clock were prepared for bed. First, the youngest was undressed and washed, then the rest in turn. All were in bed by eight.
Mrs. Wesley’s first care was to teach her children obedience. She knew that this was not only the way to rule well her large household, but also to secure the happiness of her boys and girls. “I insist,” she says in her interesting letter, “upon conquering the will of children betimes, because this is the only strong and rational foundation of a religious education, without which both precept and example will be ineffectual. But when this is thoroughly done, then a child is capable of being governed by the reason and piety of its parents, till its own understanding comes to maturity, and the principles of religion have taken root in the mind.” One result of this training was seen in times of illness. There was no difficulty in getting these model children to take even the most unpleasant medicine.
Religious training began as early as possible. Even before they could kneel or speak, they were taught to be quiet at family prayers, and to ask a blessing by signs. As soon as they could speak they repeated the Lord’s Prayer morning and evening. A prayer for their parents, some collects, Catechism, and Scripture, were added as soon as they were able to learn them. No profane or rude words were ever heard in the Parsonage. The children were taught to ask quietly for what they wanted. Crying never won anything in this home. No one was allowed to speak to the servants without saying, “Pray give me such a thing.” The little people were always expected to say “Brother John” or “Sister Kezzy.” The code of honour observed among them allowed no promise to be broken, no gift reclaimed. No one attempted to take what belonged, to his brother or sister. Confession of a fault always averted punishment, so that many temptations to falsehood were removed.
The quote above is from The Life of John Wesley by John Telford – Chapter 2, CHILDHOOD AT EPWORTH and is found at http://wesley.nnu.edu/?id=84. Copyright © 1993-2011. Wesley Center for Applied Theology, c/o Northwest Nazarene University. All Rights Reserved.
Wesley described this manner of learning obedience at an early age in his Journal on ….