The true yokefellow

Over the Christmas period I was re-reading my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather’s biography—the Memoir of the Rev. Joseph Entwisle, Fifty-four Years a Wesleyan Minister. In this reading of the book I came across the wonderful word, yokefellow. When I researched the word, I found it resonated strongly with the book in a way not quite intended.

The first use of yokefellow

The earliest known use of yokefellow is in the early English translations of the bible (Philippians 4:3):

“And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellow-labourers, whose names are in the book of life.”

In this passage, Paul addresses someone who had been associated with him in the work of spreading the gospel in Philippi. No one has been able to identity the unnamed person. However, because it was expressed as “true yokefellow” it may suggest that the original Greek, suzugos, meaning co-yoked, may also be the name of the person (meaning someone who equally shares the work). It is perhaps an early example of nominative determinism.

Suzugos has been used by Greek writers (from Aeschylus) of those united by the bond of marriage, relationship, office, labour, study, or business and hence yokefellow can be found as its translation.

The Oxford English dictionary in tracking the frequency of the use of the word shows that the word had its most popular usage over the life of the reverend.

The Reverend Joseph Entwisle

Written in 1848 by his son, the Reverend Joseph Entwisle (jun.), also my forebear, the Memoir is an extraordinary piece of family history and insight into the Wesleyan Methodist Church soon after the death of its founder, John Wesley.

The memoir aims to acquaint the “new generation” of Wesleyan ministers with the “spirit and manner of life of the men whom God so greatly honoured as instruments of spiritual good, and that they should tread in their steps”.

The Rev. Joseph Entwisle was an early convert to Wesleyan Methodism. John Wesley led an evangelical revival in England and founded the Methodist movement. Wesley preached to the poor and needy as an itinerant—travelling around “circuits” preaching three times a day. The Methodists were highly committed to pastoral care and to helping the poor, which made them unpopular with many in the established Church of England.

Joseph worked with John Wesley as a young minister and also became an itinerant. He was one of a group of ministers that having been taught by Wesley, personally, led the Methodists into the 19th century.

In 1787, Joseph accompanied John Wesley through the Oxfordshire Circuit. Wesley would have been 84, while Joseph was 20 years old. In the memoir Joseph notes that he found Wesley exceedingly vivacious and cheerful and tells this story. When riding with Wesley “at a pretty smart pace” his horse suddenly fell and Joseph went right over its head, and landed on his feet unhurt. Mr. Wesley delighted with his agility exclaimed, “Well done, Joseph, I could not have done better than that myself”.

Joseph was twice President of the Annual Wesleyan Methodist Conference and appointed as Governor of Hoxton Theological Institution in London that was the first college for Wesleyan ministers, many of which became missionaries in the Pacific (that is another story).

The Reverend’s yokefellows

Reading the Memoir has been a challenge at times. But, although there is a lot of sermonising about the best Christian life, there are also deeply moving and highly articulate emotions described in regard to his relationships with family, colleagues and friends.

Born in Manchester on 16 April, 1767 and dying on 6 November 1841, Joseph lived a long life. However, of his six children only two survived him. His first, wife, Mary Pawson, died after giving birth to their last child (in 1804 at the age of 33) and his second wife, Lucy Hine (who he had married in 1805) also died young in 1834.

It is in his descriptions of his relationships with first Mary and then Lucy, that he uses “yokefellow”. He believes that Mary will be a “true yokefellow”. It is interesting to note his view of the marriage is as that of equals. This is someone who will equally share his burden as he works as an itinerant minister. Wesley had allowed women as preachers (preaching locally in Methodist chapels) although Joseph himself had opposed women being appointed as itinerants.

When Mary died he wrote:

“ … yet I feel I am a widowed husband, a parent deprived of a help-meet, and a bereaved friend. In the last of these characters I feel the most.”

On 28 December 1805 he writes of his new wife, Lucy,

“Hitherto hath the Lord helped me. This time last year I sat alone in a state of gloomy widowhood. Now, blessed be God, I have a kind, affectionate, agreeable yoke-fellow. I enjoy domestic comfort to the full.”

On 15April, 1829 he writes:

“… and a mind at peace, that sees the wisdom, and power, and goodness of God in his works — all combine to inspire pleasure; while the recollection of my dear Mary and Lucy, and so many of my children who have been removed from me, induce feelings of deep solemnity.”

Wesley’s yokefellow

The Reverend Joseph Entwisle was one of John Wesley’s ministers:

“… a fair specimen of the simplicity, the gravity, the spirituality, and the holy fervour, by which the early Methodist Preachers were distinguished”.

He lived a “long, laborious, consistent, and exemplary life”. Despite the tragedies around him he upheld his strong beliefs and worked hard to deliver the Methodist ministry and was indeed a true yokefellow to John Wesley.