In 1738 the English Wesley brothers, Charles and John, experienced a deep conversion to, and became ardent followers of, Christ. For fifty years, from field to barn, in open squares and private houses, John would preach, travelling miles on horseback in his endeavours to bring the gospel to the many thousands the church had never reached. For all his energy, no one man could do it alone; where he left off, others carried on the work. From the one fire many sparks would fly and ignite other fires in different parts of the country. One such spark was a young woman whose name was Ann Cutler, also known as ‘Praying Nanny’.
‘Careless of life and so careful for God’s kingdom’, was the way one historian described the life of this young woman. Born in Preston in 1759, Ann worked as a hand loom weaver and was converted through the ministry of William Bramwell, an early travelling Methodist preacher. She only lived thirty-five years and, in those short years, she witnessed revivals in the mining and weaving areas of North England. Bramwell, her spiritual father, wrote an account of her life, some of which is quoted below.
Ann would go to different towns in the North, devoting herself to prayer and intercession for that place. Revival would follow. At Dewsbury in Yorkshire, ‘Ann Cutler joined us in continual prayer to God for a revival of His work’. Here some of the hardest people, ‘were suddenly struck, and in agonies groaned for deliverance’ and ‘great numbers’ turned to the Lord. At other places where she travelled to pray, very often ten, twenty or more gave their lives to Jesus in one meeting. ‘Wherever she went there was an amazing power of God attending her prayers.’
Ann was known for her purity, her closeness of walk with God, her tenderness of heart and her relentless commitment and ‘tranquil’ hard work as she laboured to see the Kingdom of God established. She was described as ‘a pure being’ raised up by God ‘to bless the church in these days of strife’ and part of a large circle of similarly consecrated women who carried, ‘a fragrant spirit of holiness, which was like ointment poured forth about the altars of Methodism.’
Ann wanted to be totally given over to what she felt God had called her to do and made up her mind to become a celibate. ‘I am Thine, blessed Jesus,’ she wrote in a formal covenant. ‘I am wholly Thine! I will have none but Thee. Preserve Thou my soul and body pure in Thy sight. Give me strength to shun every appearance of evil. In my looks keep me pure, in my words pure, a chaste virgin to Christ forever. I promise Thee, upon my bended knees, that if Thou wilt be mine I will be Thine, and cleave to none other in this world.’
Ann was never a public figure as such. She seldom spoke in meetings but wherever she went and prayed behind the scenes people were converted. ‘Her power was in her prayers, which melted the most hardened assemblies.’ She got up at twelve midnight to pray and then, from four to five each morning, she would be up again, interceding for God’s work to be done in the land.
On the morning of her death she was awake before the dawn, as was her habit, worshipping and praising God. ‘She died as she had lived,’ and looking around at those gathered around her, she exclaimed, ‘I am going to die. Glory be to God and the Lamb for ever!’ They were her last words, a woman who had lived and died as a celibate, ‘so careful for God’s kingdom.’