John Wesley’s marriage shows us how not to be married. By that I mean that Wesley made mistakes that helped make his marriage miserable. These mistakes are catalogued in Doreen Moore’s Good Christians Good Husbands?
First, he married on the rebound. After being engaged to Grace Murray, whom John dearly loved, Grace married another man, perhaps with the collusion of John’s brother Charles (pp 34-37). John then hastily married Molly Vazeille, a widow with four children. Wesley was 48 years old at the time.
Second, he did not take time to learn the character of his wife before he married her, probably because he had been so hurt by losing his fiancee Grace. Later in life John wrote that he believed his wife Molly was possessed by “diabolical lunacy.” She told others that John was an adulterer with many women and often blew up in anger at the evangelist. John accused her of lying to others about his words to her.
Third, Wesley refused to avoid the appearance of evil in his relations with women. He wrote long and affectionate letters to other women. For example, he wrote to Peggy Dale, “Your artless, simple, undisguised affection exceedingly increased mine. At the same time it increased my confidence in you, so that I feel you are unspeakably near and dear to me.” When Molly discovered these letters, she told him to stop. He refused, saying he had a “right” to write and converse with anyone he pleased. Moore comments, “Wesley believed it was up to his conscience and she was to accept that” (47).
Fourth, Wesley travelled incessantly, insisting that his wife travel with him, without her children, or stay at home. When she begged him to spend more time with her at home, he insisted it was God’s call on his life and she had to go along with it. On one journey with John, she got word that one of her sons was dying. She hurried home by herself to say goodbye. This was a pattern that John kept up throughout their marriage, even though he preached that a husband should do whatever he can to please his wife “and keep from hurting her” (25).
To be fair, John claimed that Molly had agreed before their marriage that he would keep up his ministry as before. And Molly was known to be bitter and scornful to others.
Moore says she might have been “mentally unsound” (57), but concludes that his marriage almost certainly would not have been so unhappy if he had taken his own advice to do what it takes to please a wife.
There might be a warning here against marrying when you are older (he was 48) unless you are prepared to change old habits.
The end was sad. Molly and John were separated from 1771 until her death ten years later. In 1777 he offered to receive her back if she would retract her false accusation of adultery. She refused.
Every great Christian leader had feet of clay. Jonathan Edwards, by all accounts the greatest American theologian ever, owned slaves. We can learn from their great virtues and teachings–and Wesley had many of both–but we can also learn from their failures.