Charles Wesley

Today’s Journey Through Scripture Readings: Job 36-37; Acts 15:22-41

My late mother-in-law was visiting with us one weekend. I should say right here, my mother-in-law was a very faithful Southern Baptist. After worship, as we were getting ready for lunch, she said, “We sang a good Baptist hymn this morning.” I was quite surprised and couldn’t really think of which hymn she was talking about and asked as much. She said, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.” I chuckled a bit and then said, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news but that hymn was written by Charles Wesley. That is one of ours.” She was a good sport and laughed it off. I guess technically we were both wrong. Since Charles Wesley was always 100 percent Church of England, that one really belongs to the Episcopal Church.

It is said that Charles Wesley averaged 10 poetic lines a day for 50 years. This prolific writer penned almost 9000 hymns. My wife said, “He was a blogger” before there were bloggers. We talked about Isaac Watts a couple of days ago. He wrote a great deal too. That being said, Watts 750 hymns pales by comparison. Some claim Watts to be the world’s greatest hymn writer (I think both would reject the idea),  With more than 10 times the volume composed Wesley would win going away. In truth, Fanny Crosby’s 5500-9000 hymns would come much closer. It is difficult because of her numerous pen names to know her exact total.

In addition to the volume written by Wesley, his work includes many hymns that are popular and enduring. Wesley wrote: “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” “Rejoice! the Lord Is King!” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “And Can It Be,”   “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,”  and  “Soldiers of Christ, Arise.” In addition to all these, he also wrote the hymns that traditionally open (“And Are We Yet Alive”) and close (“A Charge to Keep I Have”) annual conferences throughout the United Methodist Church.

Historically Charles often takes a back seat to his brother John. Without question, John’s sermons were important to the early years of Methodism. But, Charles’ hymns were also vital to early Methodists.

Charles was born December 18, 1707, to Samuel and Suzannah Wesley. He was the eighteenth of nineteen children. Charles Wesley was the eighteenth of Samuel and Susannah Wesley’s nineteen children (only 10 lived to maturity). He was born prematurely in December 1707 and appeared dead. He lay silent, wrapped in wool, for weeks. As was the case for his siblings, Charles was first taught at home by his mother. Later he attended the Westminster School and then spent nine years at Oxford where he earned a master’s degree.

Charles and friends were founding members of the Holy Club. The small group celebrated Communion each week as well as a strict discipline of spiritual study. Due to their religious regime, other students began referring to the group by name seen as derogatory, “methodists.”

In 1735 Charles and John to the colony of Georgia where Charles was secretary to Colonial Governor James Oglethorpe. It was a miserable experience for both brothers. For Charles, the experience left him in a crisis of faith.

In May 1738, Charles began reading Martin Luther’s volume on Galatians while restricted to his sick bed. He wrote, “I labored, waited, and prayed to feel ‘who loved me, and gave himself for me.'” Before long, the crisis of faith came to an end as he wrote in his journal, “I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoice in hope of loving Christ.” Two days later he wrote a praise hymn celebrating his rediscovered faith.

In 1780, Charles’ brother John compiled a hymnal, A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists. Charles wrote many of the hymns. In writing the preface John praised his brother’s work.

As previously said, Charles wrote many hymns. In his lifetime he wrote 56 volumes of hymns. John Wesley called his brother’s life work in music, a “distinct and full account of scriptural Christianity.”

The early Methodists were a singing people. Some have said this rests in Charles’ work. The Methodist love of music rests is rooted in Charles work and almost assuredly in the early education provided by Suzannah.

In the Dictionary of Hymnology, editor John Julian concluded that “perhaps, taking quantity and quality into consideration, [Charles Wesley was] the greatest hymn-writer of all ages.”

Have a great day in the Lord.

With Joy and Thankfulness,

Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved


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