In 1697 Samuel and Susanna Wesley assumed responsibility for the church in Epworth, England, and they soon filled the parsonage with children. Susanna gave birth to 19 in all—among them, John, the future founder of Methodism. The Epworth years were hard, days of poverty, disagreement, and discouragement. The difficulties increased in December, 1716, when an unexpected visitor arrived—a ghost. The parsonage came alive with mysterious sounds. Groaning. Loud knockings. Feet on the stairs. Bottles breaking. Chains rattling. The house sometimes shook from top to bottom. No explanation could be found, but strange apparitions were occasionally seen.

The ghost (or demon, or whatever it was) became most agitated during family devotions when Rev. Wesley prayed for the royal family. Terrible poundings came from upstairs, which so provoked the minister that he prayed with increasing defiance and volume. Losing all patience, he once shouted, “Thou deaf and dumb devil, why dost thou frighten the children? Come to me in my study that am a man.” Afterward, it constantly annoyed Wesley in his study.

At first, Susanna had attributed the noises to rats. But when strange horns began blaring throughout the house, she grew convinced that no human or animal could make such sounds. On March 27, 1717 she wrote to her skeptical son Samuel, away at school, “I cannot imagine how you should be so curious about our unwelcome guest. For my part, I am tired with hearing or speaking of it; but if you come, you will find enough to satisfy all your scruples, and perhaps you may hear or see it yourself.”

The family eventually named their ghost “Old Jeffrey.” The children grew accustomed to him, finding they could tease and anger him with personal remarks. His antics finally died down, but years later John, then a world-famous evangelist, wrote an account of him for a magazine. It seems the devil had overplayed his hand. Seeking to frighten or destroy the future evangelist, Old Jeffrey had instead convinced John that the battle was not against flesh and blood, but against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world.

We are not fighting against humans. We are fighting against forces and authorities and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world. So put on all the armor that God gives. Then when that evil day comes, you will be able to defend yourself. And when the battle is over, you will still be standing firm. (Ephesians 6:12,13)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). March 27.

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