The Journals of Charles Wesley: Prophetess Lavington’s Case

Editor's note: As a primary record of one of the founders of the Wesleyan/Methodist movement, Charles Wesley’s Journal is crucial to an understanding of the beginnings of that movement. It is an indispensable interpretive companion to John Wesley’s Journal, diaries, and letters. Since it provides important background to the context of Charles Wesley’s own lyrical theology expressed in sacred poetry, it is likewise absolutely essential for anyone who wants to understand the context out of which Wesleyan theology, worship, spirituality, hymnody, and conferencing emerged. 

"In 1685 Louis XIV repealed the Edict of Nantes, subjecting Protestants in France to renewed persecution. Protestants in the isolated Cévennes region of south-central France in particular raised an insurrection, encouraged in part by some prophesying the soon return of Christ to set up a millennial reign. The insurrectionists came to be called “Camisards.” As the revolt was put down, many sought refuge in England, where their distinctive practices led to them being called the “French Prophets.” This stream intermingled with other continental immigrants like the Moravians and pietists, especially in London and Bristol. Thus both [John Wesley] and [Charles Wesley] encountered them in the initial years of the revival. This document was prepared by [Charles Wesley] in the midst of a particular encounter with a colorful prophetess."1 — Randy Maddox

June 1739

I.N.I. (2)

The first mention I heard made of Mrs. Lavington3 the prophetess was, if I remember, by a child of God who had received the Holy Ghost while a Quaker but is now baptized into the visible church of Christ.4 He told me he much feared our brethren would be seduced by her, for he knew her to be a wicked woman, and now to live in adultery with one [Mr.] Wise, a French Prophet; who himself confessed that he had lain with her.

Upon this notice I thought it my duty to inquire farther; “not to believe every spirit, but to try the spirits whether they were of God.”5 His providence, without my seeking it, cast me upon one Anne Graham who has been a child of God these seven years. She informed me that she had been carried to the prophetess, as to a most experienced Christian who knew the state of every one’s soul; that she was at first greatly taken with her, as were the strongest of our brethren and sisters who flocked after her, some or other of them, continually, and received her prophecies as uttered by immediate inspiration.

She spoke as in the person of the Most High God, ushering in her prophecies with “The Lord saith”; sometimes singing, sometimes expounding her songs. She flattered a person present most excessively, telling him he should be another Whitefield.6 Some of her words were, “I say unto thee, it shall be so. Thou shalt come to Jacob’s well and drink. Thou shalt be married to Christ. Thou shalt receive a white stone. The Lord shows me that I should call thee sea-horse. ….”

After every prophecy her audience expressed their approbation by crying out, “The Lord speaketh good things! Glory be to the Lord!”

Several advices she gave them, as: 1) That the men and women should not be separated in the societies (because they were not in the church triumphant), for the Spirit of God would not work till they were brought together again. The men and women must (as she called it) “set shoulder to shoulder.” 2) That all should marry at all hazards. “Let them take wives out of the streets, but let them marry.” 3) A third advice was that they should not sing psalms in the societies.

Her advice to Anne Graham in particular was: 1) To dress as fine as she could—that being a part of Christian liberty, and you are now (said she) fit to wear any thing. Her whole discourse to her and all others whom I have as yet spoken with tended to breed and nourish pride. By this mark Mr. [Westley] Hall7 said he found her out immediately.

2) She bade Anne Graham advise her mistress “not to go so often to the sacrament, which did her hurt.” Anne might go—for Anne had still a veneration for our Lord’s command, and therefore the prophetess could not speak so plainly to her as she did to others, whom she found better disposed to cast off the means of grace.

John Cheney told me that she expressly dissuaded him from going to the sacrament, which she blasphemously called a beggarly element. She said in the hearing of Anne Ellis and Mary Cades (as themselves informed me) that if they could not yet go without crutches, they must even use them a little longer. But as they grew stronger, they would be called from the means of grace, and in particular the sacrament—concerning which she used this horrid expression, “What, shall I feed upon husks with swine, when I can feed upon the fatted calf?”

3) A third advice which she pressed upon Anne Graham was, “By all means to marry any one she could get.” She told her she should know the man she was to marry, should find in herself whom God would join her to; and denounced terrible woes if she did not marry whom God should choose for her. When Anne mentioned St. Paul’s advice, 1 Corinthians 7, the prophetess replied, “I do not believe St. Paul there.”

She pretends (as Anne farther informed me) to know people’s thoughts (which is the incommunicable attribute of God) and boasts that she can call the angels and archangels, and command Christ himself to come unto her. She puts all her followers upon looking for visions and revelations only, says she always sees a little angel with a cap and a feather on the top of a ladder when her prayer is answered. “For I” (says she) “am like unbelieving Thomas; unless I see with my eyes, I cannot believe.”8

I asked Anne Graham how she came to suspect her for a false prophetess. She answered that God had showed it her. She had heard that Mrs. Lavington was a bad woman and lived in adultery, but it was God convinced her and opened her eyes by his word. The second time of her going she endeavoured to try the spirits, and instead of joining with the prophetess, cried earnestly to God to save her and the others from giving heed to seducing spirits, and that he would send true ministers into his church. She went home in great trouble of spirit, but could not sleep all night. Examined herself and all that had passed. Found her intention was pure, and she in perfect charity. Thought of consulting me, and prayed earnestly for direction when that scripture came strongly into her mind, “Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication, and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he that searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.” (Revelation 2:20ff.) She was immediately filled with joy in the Holy Ghost, had the strongest assurance of faith, and saw through the whole in a moment with conviction that it was all a delusion of Satan.

She was tempted not to tell me, because (thought she) he will not believe me; besides the others will certainly tell him. She prayed again and perceived it was of God that she should communicate it to me, for she clearly saw the imminent danger the societies were in from this woman’s getting among them, and the infinite scandal it would occasion, if she was not immediately cast out. She prayed almost continually for my coming, sent after, but missed of me, till Wednesday, June 6. I providentially went toward the society down the market (a way I never used). She saw, and called me as I passed by, told me of her danger and miraculous escape from this deceiver.

"The Journal Letters and Related Biographical Items of the Reverend Charles Wesley, M.A." (Abingdon Press, 2018). Order here:

From her I went (not to Fetter Lane as I intended, but) to Mr. [John Bray]’s society,9 where I unexpectedly found the prophetess. I spoke a few words from Romans 6. Upon my insisting on holiness being the great mark of faith, Mr. Wise asked me whether a man could attain perfection here? I answered, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”10 The prophetess seemed very uneasy while I expounded, groaning and swelling, I suppose through the operation of the Spirit. I turned upon her and said, “If you have any thing to say, speak in the name of Jesus.” She began her outcry with great violence of action, speaking in the person of God. “My children look for perfection, I say for absolute perfection. You may attain to absolute sinless perfection. ….” She went on wresting several scriptures to favour that arrogant doctrine of devils. I was once minded to have rebuked her in the name of Jesus that she should hold her peace. But God repressed me, and gave me uncommon recollection and command of spirit. So I sat quiet and let her go on, replying nothing, but offering to sing when her prophecy was over. “Yea” (said she, still in the person of God) “sing, my children. By all means, I say, sing.” We did sing “Creator Spirit, by whose aid…,” which I chose for the sake of that verse, “Chase from our minds th’ infernal foe.”11 I observed she did not join with us, but continued kneeling from the time she ceased prophesying. Mrs. S[ellers]12 and others were in raptures while the spirit was upon her. They all knelt down with great devotion. I stood till I should know how I liked it. She prayed with most pompous expressions borrowed (as it should seem) from the mystics, and flattered one present in a gross shocking manner. Her prophecy she concluded with an horrible laugh (as if the devil in her mocked his foolish admirers). She endeavoured to turn it off by saying she “could not but smile at God’s marvellous goodness.”

G. Cawdry was there before I came. The prophet and prophetess fell upon him and vehemently blamed him for being baptized,13 telling him that he was past it. He was quite above it. She highly complimented him upon his gifts, assuring him that he was called to preach, and preach he must. After I was gone, she said in Mr. Okeley’s14 hearing she “would not go by St. Paul, but by the spirit in herself.”

I must not forget the behaviour of Anne Graham while I was taking down her relation. She appeared under strong temptation, the enemy labouring with all his power and subtlety to disturb and hinder her. I was forced to bring her back ten times before she could finish any one thing she had begun to say. She cried and prayed and trembled, continuing in an agony all the day, as I imagined she would. The tempter tried all ways to deter her from writing down any more particulars. She told me she now knew what it was to wrestle with principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in high places,15 for the devil had been upon her as a roaring lion,16 filling her with all manner of evil suggestions. He asked what it signified to take down any account. And when she did begin, he caught from her what she was going to write. Then he darted such horror into her, as she had never known before. Her body likewise was full of violent pain, which she believed he inflicted, and which she said explained to her what was meant by St. Paul’s thorn in the flesh,17 the messenger of Satan to buffet him.

One impudent suggestion she often began to tell me, but forgot it again immediately. At last the devil could hinder her no longer. It was, “You see what it is to be a Christian. You had better be still in your natural state, than thus tormented.” She had several scriptures brought to her remembrance which strengthened her in her conflict, such as, “Lo, I am with you always.”18 “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.”19 “Rejoice not over me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall rise again.”20 “God shall bruise Satan under your foot shortly.”21

A farther account of the prophetess I received from one Mrs. Rigby, who has known her these sixteen years. Her behaviour was so scandalous that their people (the French Prophets), she told me, could not bear her. Her business was to join men and women as spiritual spouses. All marriages to any but the spiritual spouses God intended, she declared null and void; and accordingly took upon her to put asunder whom God had joined,22 taking a man from his wife and children, a woman from her husband and children, and giving them to whom the spirit bid her. Of this she gave instances, particularly that of one Scholey whom the prophetess took from his wife and children, and joined to another woman, with whom he lived in adultery seven years. The prophetess herself, she told me, lived in like manner with the prophet Wise.

This exactly agreed with the account I had first from Cawdry and then from Scholey. This latter had been awakened by Mr. Whitefield’s ministry. He informed me that the prophetess had laboured to persuade him he might innocently lie with his own sister, and did actually induce him to leave his family and live seven years in adultery. First of all she brought him off the sacrament and the other means of grace, telling him when he was in deep despair that it was sent by God as a punishment for his going to the sacrament. Whereas he ought to give himself up entirely to her and his spiritual father, the prophet Wise.

The way she took to seduce him was to puff him up with pride, telling him he should be a preacher and do great things. She likewise preached predestination to him. To others of different sentiments, I hear, she preaches free grace, or universal redemption. 

June 11. I went with Mr. Oxlee23 to Mrs. Scholey’s who confirmed the prophetess’s title to the character of a notorious bawd, and named several persons whom she had attempted to join in spiritual wedlock. Some of her words to Mrs. Scholey were, “I am in that standing that I can go to any one” (and so are you). “I am in the very highest standing of any person upon earth.”

June 12. I had another of our brethren who gave me a correspondent account of her. She foretold in his presence that God would shortly destroy all outward things. The dispensation of Whitefield, she said, would soon be over, God only using him as the forerunner of greater persons. She hinted that he would be lost at sea.

One more testimony I need produce against the prophetess, which is the testimony of the prophetess herself. On Tuesday evening, June 12, I called at Mr. [John] Bray’s and found Mr. Hutchings,24 [John] Robson,25 and several others there. Soon after the prophet Wise came in. I asked him before them all, whether he had not owned to Cawdry that he had lain with the prophetess. He could not deny it. While he was abusing me with much scurrility, the prophetess entered. She flew upon me, as if she would tear me to pieces, and laboured to outsaw26 the truth with unparalleled confidence. Scholey and Cawdry confronted her, and repeated Wise’s confession. She was all rage and fury, raving against them as villains and hypocrites, with the utmost excess of passion and outrage. She was not more lamb-like towards Mr. Hutchings and me, whom she slighted fools, blockheads, blind leaders of the blind, whose only design was to put out the eyes of this people. As for me, she said the devil was in me. And all this by inspiration from God who, she said, had revealed it to her what we were about and spoke in her.

That I might not misrepresent her, I asked whether she was immediately inspired? She answered, “Yes.” But as immediately as the prophets of old? “Yes.” And does God as really speak in you as he did in them? “Yes.” Was what you uttered last Thursday of sinless perfection by the immediate Spirit of God? She insisted it was, and went on in flat contradiction to the written word, asserting that if we say we have no sin, we do not deceive ourselves, but the truth is in us.27

I repeated to her the most shocking particulars of the forgoing account, which she owned and justified. As that she can call the angels and archangels, and command Christ himself to her in whatever shape she pleases. That God appears to her, sometimes as a dove, sometimes as an eagle. That in prayers she sees a little angel on a ladder with a cap and feather denoting the swiftness of his motion. That she was utterly above the use of means and ordinances. That the sacrament was a beggarly element, and God would shortly destroy all outward things, means, ordinances, and churches. Upon our answering her with, “It is written,” she fully proved what Mr. Okeley testified he heard her say, namely that she would not go by what St. Paul said, but by the spirit in herself. “Away with your apostles” was one of her expressions; and others she used, equally blasphemous, to the full conviction of her hearers.

Mr. Hutchings asked whether that was the spirit of meekness by which she spoke? “No!” said she, “but it is the lion of the tribe of Judah.” That there was a roaring lion in her, seeking whom he might devour, I readily granted, for I never saw the devil so strong in any human soul. She demanded by what authority I taught the societies; said she would come among them in spite of me; and foretold, if she did not, they would all go down. I stayed asking her questions till all were thoroughly satisfied of what spirit she was of, and then asked “Who is on God’s side? Who for the old, rather than the new prophets? Let them follow me.” They all did so. God was remarkably present with us. Not a soul among us but was sensible of it.

The lesson for the day which I expounded was 1 John 4[:1–2], “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God. Because many false prophets are gone out into the world. … Every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God.”

By this mark I proved the spirit of Mrs. Lavington not to be the Spirit of God. She doth not confess Jesus Christ. By her mouth she doth, but not in heart and life—unless adultery is a confession of him. This is the test our Lord himself gives us. “Beware of false prophets.”28 “By their fruits shall ye know them.”29 Hereby I know this woman to be a false prophetess. As likewise by her giving God the lie in contradicting his written word. Why therefore seek we farther witness? To the law and to the testimony!30 If they speak not after this word, it is because there is no light in them. Mrs. Lavington speaks not after this word, therefore there is no light in her. Therefore she is a child of the devil. Therefore she is false, if God is true.

For more background, see Hillel Schwartz, The French Prophets (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980); and Kenneth G. C. Newport, “Early Methodism and the French Prophets: Some New Evidence,” WHS 50 (1996): 127–40.

2 In Nomine Iesu”; “In the name of Jesus.”

Newport suggests that her first name was Mary (“Early Methodism,” 130), citing this manuscript. CW uses only her family name. Little is known of her beyond the accounts here and in the journals of JW and CW.

4 I.e., G. Cawdry, mentioned below.

5 Cf. 1 John 4:1.

6 Rev. George Whitefield (1714–70), who preceded the Wesley brothers by three years in his evangelical conversion in 1735. Ordained deacon in June 1736 (and priest in 1739), he began preaching in London in various churches with almost immediate success. This success carried over to Bristol in Jan. 1737, and then across the Atlantic on his first journey there. In Feb. 1739, back in Bristol, he turned to field preaching and soon convinced JW and CW to join in this new setting. Despite their shared passion in the revival, the Wesley brothers and Whitefield held divergent theologies (Arminian and Calvinist). These soon caused tensions (and eventual divisions) in the broad Methodist movement.

7 Rev. Westley Hall (c. 1710–76), a native of Salisbury, became a pupil of JW at Lincoln College on Jan. 26, 1731. Within a year he was closely involved with the “Oxford Methodists.” An apparent model of Christian piety, JW gladly introduced Hall to his family; only to find him courting Martha and Kezia at the same time in 1734–35. Hall married Martha on Sept. 13, 1735, days after being ordained both deacon and priest, professedly in order to accompany JW and CW to Georgia. Within a month Hall withdrew from this venture. More importantly, he eventually proved unfaithful to Martha, justifying his actions by appeals to polygamy in Scripture. In addition to fracturing his marriage, this led to an end of his service as an Anglican priest and supporter of the Methodist cause. Hall kept up some correspondence with Martha until his death.

8 Cf. John 20:25.

9 CW identifies the society in MS Journal, though there he places these events on Thursday, June 7. John Bray (fl. 1738–44), a brazier of Little Britain, London, was one of the founding members of the Fetter Lane society. He was very helpful to CW, who was lodging in his home at the time of his conversion on May 21, 1738. In Dec. 1739 Bray emerged as a leader in the “stillness” controversy, which eventuated in the Wesley brothers leaving the Fetter Lane society in mid 1740. The next three years were marked by Bray seeking leadership roles among the English Moravians, finding those doors blocked, and seeking reconciliation with the Wesleys. Financial difficulties led him to leave London in late 1744, and he receives no further mention by CW.

10 1 John 1:8.

11 John Dryden, “Veni Creator” which JW included in CPH (1738), 40–41.

12 CW gives the full last name in MS Journal; her first name was Lydia.

13 Cawdry, a Quaker, had been baptized by Rev. Scott on June 4; see CW, MS Journal.

14 CW interacted with both Francis Okeley (1719–94) and his brother John (1721–92); it is not clear which of the brothers is intended. CW spells “Oakly.”

15 Cf. Eph. 6:12.

16 Cf. 1 Pet. 5:8.

17 See 2 Cor. 12:7–9.

18 Cf. Matt. 28:20.

19 Luke 22:32.

20 Cf. Mic. 7:8.

21 Cf. Rom. 16:20.

22 See Matt. 19:6.

23 William Oxlee (1713–78), a clog-maker and one of the early members of the Fetter Lane society, became a leading London Moravian layman. CW spells “Oxly.”

24 John Hutchings (b. 1716) matriculated at Pembroke College, Oxford in 1734, where he became involved in the “Oxford Methodists.” Receiving his BA in 1738, he became Charles Kinchin’s curate at Dummer, Hampshire. He was present at the origins of the revival in London in 1739, but soon sided with the Moravians and stepped out of leadership. CW spells “Hutchins.”

25 John Robson (b. 1714), matriculated at Lincoln College, Oxford on May 17, 1732, where JW became his tutor. Over the next eight years Robson had a vacillating relationship to first the “Oxford Methodists” and the emerging Methodist revival. Robson received the BA in 1735, and the MA from New Inn Hall in 1742; but there is no record of him taking a parish.

26 To see beyond, or surpass in foresight.

27 Cf. 1 John 1:8.

28 Matt. 7:15.

29 Cf. Matt. 7:20.

30 See Isa. 8:20.

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