A man placed some flowers on the grave of his dearly departed mother and started back toward his car when his attention was diverted to another man kneeling at a gravestone. The man seemed to be praying with profound intensity and kept repeating, “Why did you have to die? Why did you have to die?” The first man approached him and said, “Sir, I don’t wish to interfere with your private grief, but this demonstration of pain is more than I’ve ever seen before. For whom do you mourn so deeply? A child? A parent?” The mourner took a moment to collect himself, then replied, “My wife’s first husband.” That grieving man could well have been the great Methodist preacher, John Wesley.
In his mid-forties, Wesley fell madly in love with a woman in her early 20’s named Grace Murray (She was his nurse when he was bedridden for a month due to severe migraines). But John’s brother, Charles, thought it would not be good for the ministry of John to do such a thing (I’ll explain why later). However, Charles did much more than just offer his opinion. Going behind his brother’s back, Charles talked Grace into marrying someone else and even performed the ceremony! John was livid and it led to a great division in the brother’s close relationship. When the local banker, Ebenezer Blackwell, heard about the debacle, he believed he had the perfect woman for the broken-hearted preacher. Her name was Molly Vazeille and she was a widow of some social standing and financial means due to her late husband’s business notoriety. Obviously, John wasn’t going to consult with his brother on this one. A few days after being introduced, the two were married in a private ceremony. The next Sunday, when John Wesley broke the news to the congregation in London, Charles wrote, “My wife, Sally, and I hid our faces for we both knew that John had no idea of the commitment that a good marriage requires.” And Charles was right. For John had previously chastised his younger brother at his being noticeably less on the open-air meeting circuit since taking a wife. He said to Charles, “I cannot understand how a Methodist preacher can answer to God for traveling one less mile and preaching one less sermon in a marital state than in a single state.”
And John was true to his word. As an example, Wesley kept a journal detailing his life; but on the day of his wedding there’s not one word about taking a wife To John, Molly was just another of the women of Methodism. Thus he continued to take off as he’d always done, being gone for weeks at a time. Needless to say, this was not the marriage for which Molly had signed up. So John offered to take her with him, but it only made matters worse. (Traveling 100s of miles on horseback over rough roads, sleeping in cots that were too small and too hard with itching blankets and bed bugs, being pelted with eggs and tomatoes, sometimes running for theirs lives – not exactly marital bliss). Then added to this was the decision by John to let Molly open his mail. Here she saw the letters between John and his female converts. To Wesley, phrases like “my joy, my dearly beloved, how greatly I long after you, etc.” were simply innocent biblical expressions of Christian love, but to Molly they were words of something else.
Finally Molly had enough of John’s insensitivity and inattentiveness and for the next twenty years took to publicly expressing her displeasure. She secretly followed him to his meetings. There Molly would burst in while John was preaching, wave some of the letters in the air, and publicly accuse him of having affairs. And when John was back home, friends reported seeing Molly drag him around by the hair and noticing the resulting bald patches when he was back out in public. The final straw for the couple came when Molly doctored some of John’s correspondence and gave the letters to his enemies at the offices of newspapers in London. They, of course, gleefully printed them and the evangelist felt he must respond. So John paid for a full page of newspaper space and listed ten complaints about his wife, Molly, among them being – she had laid to his charge things he knew not, she had robbed him of his reputation, she had betrayed him of his confidences, and she had revealed his secrets. He closed with, “You have done such under the pretense of vindicating your own character but of what importance is your reputation to mankind? If you were buried just now, or if you had never lived, what loss would it be to the cause of God? There are few stomachs which could bear the doses of humiliation you have ministered to me. If you were to live a thousand years, you could not undo the mischief you have done.” Needless to say, Molly left the marriage for good. And John wrote in his journal of that day, “I did not forsake her. I did not dismiss her. I will not recall her. The blood is spilled and it cannot be gathered up again.” Charles would later write, in describing his matrimonial splendor to that of John’s matrimonial tribulation, “A marriage made in heaven and a marriage made in the other place.”
The bottom line? As Paul states in I Corinthians 7, there are some Christians so dedicated, that it’s best for all if the only thing they’re ever married to is God’s work.