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Easter 2010 - Behold the Savior

Posted: April 3, 2010 - 12:03 CT

Portions of this story appeared in the religious section of the Milwaukee Journal on August 30, 1941.  We have researched and filled in additional details.

This is a true story about Sam, who was orphaned as a young child grew up and became an impoverished Anglican preacher in Epworth, England.  To say that his dogmatic, uncompromising sermons were very unpopular would be a vast understatement.  It was told that his wife Susanna’s kitchen Bible studies were more popular than his sermons.  If you think unpopular preachers have a hard time today, his parishioners maimed his livestock and burned his crops.

Finally on February 9, 1709, some disgruntled members torched his parsonage.  Sam and Susanna were awakened by the fire’s sparks falling on their bed.  The flames had spread like wildfire, and the thatched roof exploded, almost trapping the children.

After Sam thought everyone had escaped through various windows and the garden door, he looked back to see his terrified five year old son John peering through the glass of an upstairs window.  The family formed a human chain, snatching the son just as the house imploded into the flames.  All the family possessions were lost, including the manuscripts of Sam’s poetry and hymns that he had one day hoped to sell to help relieve some of his family’s financial burdens.

And now, as the late great Paul Harvey would say, “here’s the rest of the story”.

Sam might have faded from history after that night, but God had other plans for him, and particularly for two of his sons.  John and his brother Charles would follow in their father’s footsteps by attending Oxford.  Like his father, John’s fervent preaching was unpopular with the Anglican Church and he finally resorted to open air preaching like his friend, and often theological rival, George Whitefield.  John traveled over 250,000 miles in spreading the Gospel throughout his ministry.

Although Sam’s compositions were lost, Charles more than made up for the loss by penning over 6000 hymns such as “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, “O’ for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”, “Christ the Lord is Risen” and “Jesus, Lover of My Soul”.  We could mention one other detail about Sam’s sons.  John (1703-1791) and Charles (1707-1788) were also the founders of the Methodist Church.

While John and Charles became household names, this Easter article still focuses on Sam (1663-1735); for God had performed one other miracle the night he “plucked John out of the burning”.  Just as the fire had reached its greatest intensity, a sudden gust of wind picked up a single manuscript page and sent it out the window to be later found in a distant corner of the garden.  Twenty nine years later, Charles Wesley would sing his father’s hymn at Newgate Prison for two criminals who were to die the next day for their crimes.  It is reported that both were converted by the hymn’s message prior to their execution.

Even though Charles was the better known hymnist, it was John who translated the hymn from the German to be published in A Collection of Psalms and Hymns in 1737.  The hymn, “Behold the Savior of Mankind” by Samuel Wesley Sr, remains one of the best loved hymns today, and an ideal song for Easter.

Behold the Savior of mankind
Nailed to the shameful tree!
How vast the love that Him inclined
To bleed and die for thee!

Hark, how He groans, while nature shakes,
And earth's strong pillars bend!
The temple's veil in sunder breaks;
The solid marbles rend.

'Tis done! the precious ransom's paid!
"Receive my soul!" He cries;
See where He bows His sacred head!
He bows His head and dies!

But soon He'll break death's envious chain,
And in full glory shine;
O Lamb of God, was ever pain,
Was ever love, like Thine?

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