Charles Wesley, the most famous Christian hymn writer of all time, had a son named Samuel. Now, Samuel Wesley married a second wife (quite possibly she was his third wife) while his first wife was still living under his roof. Samuel’s first son through this polygamous union with Sarah Suter, who he affectionately called Pexy, was Samuel Sebastian Wesley, the greatest Christian composer of the 19th century.
If you’ve spent any time in a church pew you will immediately remember Samuel Sebastian Wesley’s famous composition that accompanies the following song:
The church’s one Foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord;
She is his new creation
By water and the Word:
From heav’n he came and sought her
To be his holy bride;
With his own blood he bought her,
And for her life he died.
All periods of great revival are preceded by a series of miraculous events. The revivals of the 18th and 19th centuries were no exception. Although many gifted song writers and composers contributed to the music of the period, and I’m sure many were accompanied by their own miracles, this is the story of the miracles concerning the Wesleys and the man who carried on their legacy both before and after his own death, Martin Madan.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodists was the 15th of 19 children [miracle 1] born to Susanna Wesley, wife of the Reverend Samuel Wesley. Susanna gave birth four more times [miracles 2-5]. One of those children was Charles. Now Martin Madan was an attorney and a great impersonator. One evening when he and his fellow attorneys were kidding around, one of them challenged him to go watch the famous evangelist, John Wesley, and then to come back and entertain them with an impression of the great evangelist. That very night, Martin Madan not only met John Wesley but he was introduced to the Lord Jesus in such a powerful way that it changed his life forever [miracle 6]. Martin Madan began preaching and teaching the gospel. Now this powerful conversion of Martin Madan was no exaggeration for he was so interested in reaching the lost for the Lord that he took the chaplaincy of the London Lock Hospital, the hospital that he himself had founded to treat those afflicted with venereal diseases. He knew his Lock Hospital was the place where he could not only reach the lost but involve himself in his music ministry, a ministry which was to take up the greater portion of his career. It was during this time that he penned the words to the following famous hymn:
Now begin the heav’nly theme,
Sing aloud in Jesus’ Name;
Ye, who His salvation prove,
Triumph in redeeming love.
Ye, who see the Father’s grace
Beaming in the Savior’s face,
As to Canaan on ye move,
Praise and bless redeeming love.
Mourning souls, dry up your tears,
Banish all your guilty fears,
See your guilt and curse remove,
Canceled by redeeming love.
Ye, alas! who long have been
Willing slaves to death and sin,
Now from bliss no longer rove,
Stop and taste redeeming love.
Welcome all by sin oppressed,
Welcome to His sacred rest;
Nothing brought Him from above,
Nothing but redeeming love.
When His Spirit leads us home,
When we to His glory come,
We shall all the fullness prove,
Of our Lord’s redeeming love.
Hither then your music bring,
Strike aloud each cheerful string;
Mortals join the host above,
Join to praise redeeming love.
In reading the lyrics to Redeeming Love it’s easy to see how songs such as this, combined with the preaching of God’s word by the Reverend Martin Madan, would pierce even the hearts of lost prostitutes who had nowhere to go but his London Lock Hospital. As they lived out their days suffering and often dying from the scourge of venereal disease they found redemption and then joy in singing praises to God. The Reverend Martin Madan produced a tract with the heart rending testimony of one such converted prostitute. On her death bed, writes Madan, the dying woman’s mother asked her, “How can I give you up? My burden is great.” To which the dying penitent replied, “Do like me. Cast your burden upon Christ, and He will bear it for you.”
The Lord blessed Martin Madan’s ministry. The very people he reached through his music ministry and with the gospel, those same lost souls who were saved, became his choir. Those also who had been cast aside by polite society came to know a greater friendship in the Lord through the Reverend Martin Madan and his ministry.
The Reverend Martin Madan had inherited great wealth and so with his own monies he constructed the Lock Chapel and then donated it to the hospital. His chapel seated 800 and an empty seat was rarely found. The pews were full of both the lowly and the high born. He became famous for preaching as well as for his choir and mastery of harmonies. Since the pews were not enough, people would crowd into the aisles and wherever they could hear the message and music. He preached chastity in the pure form found only in the pages of the Bible such as has not been heard in any church up to this day. The lives he touched by not giving in to cultural bigotry but preaching straight from the word cannot be overstated.
Martin Madan was no stranger to the fact that many, if not most of the prostitutes suffering from venereal diseases at the London Lock Hospital, were abandoned mistresses who had been forced to enter prostitution rather than see their children starve. After years spent ministering to the abandoned and now diseased mistresses of the London “gentlemen,” Madan released his book called Thelyphthora [miracle 8]. Attorney that he was, he put forth his case, from the Bible, that polygamy must be accepted by the church and society. Part of the book also set forth the case that the men who impregnated these prostitutes must be forced to support them as wives. His years as an attorney had served him well. He so forcefully exposed the hypocrisy of the day that his book was met by no less than 19 rebuttals written by prominent English moralists. None, however, could match his prowess in biblical exposition and his book remains unmatched to this day in its full treatment of the arguments favoring the acceptance of polygamy as a valid form of Christian marriage.
During Martin Madan’s years at the Lock Hospital, he produced (at his own expense) the first hymnal to be widely distributed [miracle 7]. His hymnal contained the hymns of not only the Wesley brothers, but Isaac Watts, George Whitfield, and the other greats of the 18th century. Martin Madan’s Hymnal, later to be known as the Lock Hospital Collection, was the very hymnal used in the great Methodist revivals of the Americas. The Baptists didn’t even have a hymnal till 25 years later.
Both in England and in America HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of souls were brought to the Lord through the music reproduced from Martin Madan’s hymnal: A Collection of Psalm and Hymn Tunes Never Published. In his dedication of the hymnal to the hospital he wrote:
“This Collection of Hymn and Psalm Tunes is presented as a benefaction to the Hospital, that the profits arising from the sale of it may be applied for the benefit of the Charity.”
His hymnal was sent to the printer on August 18, 1769. Just thirteen days later, On August 31, 1769, Martin Madan’s ten and a half year old son, William, died. In his elegy to his beloved son Madan wrote:
He stood confess’d his Parent’s Joy and Pride,
Nor ever caus’d them Grief but when he dy’d.
Three and a half years before this tragic event, Charles Wesley had named Martin Madan godfather to his newborn son, Samuel. Now that Madan was bereaved of his own son, Samuel became the focus of his fatherly attentions. Soon Samuel was showing not just talent, but greatness. By the age of eight he had composed the oratorio, Ruth. His musical talent matched his father’s lyrical talent. By this time Madan began to take him along with him on visits to friends and the two made any Christian gathering a festive musical occasion; the child genius and the famous Madan of the Lock Chapel. As Samuel matured his godfather, Madan, did not fail to teach him the things he’d written in Thelyphthora, his pro-polygamy book. It’s clear that Samuel agreed with his godfather for he wrote the following concerning his first wife prior to his licensing their already consummated marriage.
“She is truly and properly my wife by all the laws of God and nature. She never can be made more so by the mercenary tricks of divine jugglers but yet, if a million of ceremonies, repeated myriads of times, by as many successors and imitators of Simon Magus, can serve to make her more happy, or more honourable, I am ready to pay them for their hocus pocus, for I am told that in this evangelical age, the gift of God is not to be purchased without money.”
Samuel Wesley had learned well. He knew that no license was needed to be wed and he learned that he could have more than one wife from the Bible under his godfather’s able instruction. Now it must be said that many years prior to Samuel’s taking Pexy (Sarah Suter) as a wife, that he may have had another wife but there is little known about her. She was his sister Sarah’s best friend, Anne Dean. One of the reasons that little is known about her may be that Samuel continued the relationship but hid it. We can’t know for certain since there is no physical evidence of their consummating a marriage as was the case with Pexy, the physical evidence being the 9 children which Pexy bore him.
Charlotte, Samuel Wesley’s first wife, was leery from the start of letting Pexy come to live with them as a maid. Her resistance is understandable considering that Samuel would have been as vocal concerning the biblical acceptability of polygamy as any of today’s Christian polygamists, after all, his godfather had written the book on Christian polygamy. Pexy’s coming to stay with them would put such a relationship within reach, quite literally. Despite Charlotte’s misgivings, Pexy came to live with them as their maid and soon after she was pregnant by Samuel. It was now visibly apparent to Charlotte that her husband had indeed taken Pexy as a wife [miracle 9] but Charlotte didn’t leave this polygamous relationship immediately. She remained in what was certainly one of the most unusual of living arrangements of the day for months after Pexy had conceived. Charlotte Wesley left her husband Samuel by some estimates as late as May of the year 1810. Pexy gave birth to Samuel Sebastian Wesley, the first child of nine that she would bear to her polygamous husband, Samuel, in August of the year 1810. It’s apparent that Charlotte was considering remaining in this polygamous marriage based on the fact she remained far beyond the time at which Pexy was visibly pregnant but such was not to be the case. Her Victorian upbringing, despite her initial unconventional marriage to Samuel, won out. Samuel and Pexy’s firstborn son, Samuel Sebastian Wesley, went on to be the greatest composer of Christian hymns of the 19th century.
Without Martin Madan’s hymnal the revivals to follow would have been delayed. Without his teachings on polygamy, the greatest Christian composer of the 19th century would not have been born.
What may be the most amazing miracle of all is that Samuel Sebastian Wesley, Samuel’s son through Pexy, was never considered illegitimate by the church or society [miracle 10] and Samuel was recognized as being married to Pexy despite the fact that he remained legally married to Charlotte throughout his life. The hypocrisy of today’s churches is in stark contrast to the churches of that time in that fornicating ministers and musicians, even adulterers and adulteresses, are tolerated today but one who might take a wife without a license or take a second wife while still married to the first wife are cast aside as useless.
Samuel Wesley, the son of Charles Wesley, the greatest hymn writer of the 18th century, was indeed the most famous polygamist to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob since Solomon. Samuel Wesley, the most famous Christian polygamist of all time.
Coming soon! Read how the sister of John Wesley, founder of the Methodists, married a polygamist. Read how it wasn’t Martin Madan who introduced polygamy to the Wesleys but it was likely the events in the life of John Wesley’s sister that opened Martin Madan’s eyes to this subject.
Note: Copyright 2006 Pastor Don Milton
The Wesleys have categorized their correspondence in great detail and copies of them are available through various church, educational, and commercial establishments. Much of the information in books about the Wesleys has been gleaned from these letters.
 Page 5 Samuel Sebastian Wesley: A Life (Oxford Studies in British Church Music) by Peter Horton (Hardcover – May 6, 2004)
 John Wesley in a letter to Samuel Sparrow – December 28, 1773. “Vast numbers crowd Blackfriars church and the chapel at the Lock”
 Samuel Wesley to his mother – November 7, 1792 [Rylands DDWF 15/5]