What is the purpose of masculinity? With so much talk concerning toxic masculinity, often we forget the positive sides of masculinity. News-media, TV shows, and all sorts of movies are now asking if masculinity is even necessary. Yet, within these same media sources, stories depicting fatherhood have tended to flourish (most recently seen in Aquaman‘s $1 billion intake). The time is ripe for a reexamination of Christian fatherhood. This series, Letters From Dad, focuses on letters which Christian fathers have written to their sons. These letters help reveal the heart of Christian fatherhood, as they seek to guide their sons through the Christian life. My hope is to encourage fathers and my fellow Christians and to provide a reminder of how important fatherhood is to the maturation of a young man.
Our first letter comes from Samuel Wesley to his son John Wesley (the founder of Methodism). John and Charles Wesley had written their father in 1732 seeking advice concerning The Holy Club. The Holy Club was a group of young Oxfordian students who were concerned with living life as pious Christians. At the time, John and Charles believed most Christians didn’t take their faith seriously. The Holy Club focused on waking up early, praying separately then together, reading the Scriptures, and reading the early church fathers, so that they “would not lean on their own understanding.” Nominal Christians at Oxford began to see John and Charles as extremists; they began to persecute John and Charles. While the persecution at Oxford was mild, it caused John and Charles some distress. John was concerned the Holy Club had gone too far and sought his father’s advice. The letter below is Samuel’s reply to John’s concerns over persecution.
In the letter Samuel seeks to strengthen John in three ways: 1. He encourages his son with scripture, 2. Samuel reminds John of how he is praying for him. Samuel does not want John to become proud of his accomplishments for God, 3. He offers John fatherly wisdom in handling worldly persecution.
Read Samuel’s letter below,
“This day I received both your [letters], and this evening, in the course of our reading, I found an answer that would be more proper than any I myself could dictate; though since it will not be easily translated, I send it in the original. “I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.”* (2 Cor. vii. 4.) What would you be? Would you be angels? I question whether a mortal can arrive to a greater degree of perfection, than steadily to do good, and for that reason patiently and meekly to suffer evil. For my part, on the present view of your actions and designs, my daily prayers are, that God would keep you humble; and then I am sure that if you continue ‘to suffer for righteousness’ sake, though it be but in a lower degree, ‘the spirit of glory and of God’ shall, in some good measure, ‘rest upon you.’ Be never weary of well-doing: never look back; for you know the prize and the crown are before you… Be not high-minded, but fear [God]. Preserve an equal temper of mind under whatever treatment you meet with from a not very just or well-natured world. Bear no more sail than is necessary, but steer steady.**
Samuel’s letter encouraged John and Charles to continue their pursuit of obeying God. The result of Samuel’s guidance produced the two of the finest men in Christian history. John and Charles strengthened The Holy Club and were eventually joined by George Whitefield. Between the revival preaching of George Whitefield and the influence of John Wesley’s Methodism, Samuel Wesley’s letter of encouragement impacted the history of the American Church deeply. Later, when John completed his multi volume compilation of all his works, he was sure to include his Father’s letter of encouragement within the introduction.
Fathers, let us take Samuel’s example. Let us strengthen the faith of our children with the encouragement that comes from the Word of God. Children need reminders we are praying for them (make sure prayer is happening). Only after we’ve allowed God to speak to our children, then out of that wisdom comes fatherly advice. Samuel saw his role as the spiritual leader of his children, even when John and Charles were adults. As Christian fathers, we need to keep our commitment to leading our children well.
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he shall not depart from it” Prov 22:6.
*Samuel Wesley quoted this verse from the Greek. This is what he means in writing, “I send it in the original.” I have supplied a translation from the NIV.
**The letter is printed in full in The Works of John Wesley, Vol. 1., 8–9.
Pastor Summerville First Baptist, married to Danielle, father of four, PhD student @SWBTS, MDiv SWBTS 2012, BA Theatre OSU