Baby Brother of John Wesley
Poet of Methodism
(1707 - 1788)
O for a thousand tongues to sing
My dear Redeemer's praise!
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of his grace.
Though Charles seems to be on the Methodist's 'second string' he was actually the first to be called (in derision) a Methodist. That nick was put on him, and his brother, John Wesley's friends in Oxford's "Holy Club" that he actually had started. This was because they had a strict regular schedule of waking, prayer, study and work. His words have been repeated far more than his illustrious brother's sermons (and only four hymns), as many of his almost six thousand hymns are sung by many worshipers. He was also was extremely productive in the verse that is not sung, his poetry. He was even more unwilling to get prominent in the spotlight than was his humble brother, therefore his story is not as well known.
Charles Wesley was the last of 19 brothers and sisters born to the Reverend Samuel Wesley and Susanna on December the 18, 1707 where his rectory was in Epworth, a bit northwest of Lincoln, England. He was of the only three sons to live. If one knows John Wesley's fine Christian upbringing, then that same morality and education, of course, was instilled to baby Charley. He was just a fifteen month-old infant carried in the housekeeper, Betty's arms when he was rescued the same time his six year old brother was when he had jumped out of a window to waiting arms to be saved from the same suspicious fire that entirely engulfed their home.
By the time in 1716 Charles went to the same Westminster school in London the other older boys attended, oldest brother Samuel (named after Poppa) was his teacher. He went on likewise to St. Peter's College there in 1721.
At only 13, Charles won the fierce contest of wits and received the King's Scholarship, and was placed as head of the dormitory. This gave him the opportunity to introduce Christian discipline, including prayer. In his last year at Westminster was dubbed Captain of the school, representative for just over 400 students.
Charley had made a reputation for himself in school as kind of a rascal until he settled down. But he had a reputation, like his brothers for defending the bullied.
Holy Moth's to the Flame
He finally joined his brothers at Oxford where they became the famous (or infamous, depending,) "Methodists." Charley had a likeable magnetic personality that attracted friends, and at first it was utilized for worldliness, until his mother's teaching kicked in. This inviting charm was what formed the core of their group -- also kidded as being the "Holy Club" --that regimented their days with prayer, study, schoolwork, charity work, and singing and praising their Lord. They were also called "Bible Bigots" and "Holy Moths".
Georgia on my mind
Charles began his role as the "Poet of Methodism" in earnest when he was got his holy orders in 1735, and joined John in the trip to the American colony of Georgia in 1737, he as Governor General Oglethorpe's Secretary. He found out similarly that the folks around his church in Frederica did not share the mandatory call to worship there. Literally sick, and almost thoroughly disillusioned, joined left his brother early after only 90 days return trip to England (John left around a year later in trouble publishing hymns "not authorized" --many by Isaac Watts.
And like John, Charles knew something was missing yearning for it a little after their return in 1737. He continued meeting with the Moravians, many of which he met on the voyage, especially Count Zinzendorf and Peter Boehler. He witnessed how singing praises brought about an intimate relationship with God through His Son and the Holy Spirit. He was sick when he left, and he developed pleurisy in May of 1738. He lived in the modest house of a non-well-to-doer handyman, William Bray, whose unsophisticated Christianity was marked by a joy he'd envied. After lying in a delirium on a Whitsunday, May 21st, misunderstanding when hearing Will's sister's prayer for a voice from God:
In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, arise and believe, and thou shalt be healed!
Then he, too "...experienced the witness of adoption..." with he was filled with joy - a "strange palpitation of heart," and knew
that his sins were forgiven. He turned the page of his Bible to Psalm 40:3 and he agreed that
He hath put a new song in my mouth,
many will see and fear
and will trust in the Lord.
The First Hymn
Supposedly the next day after Charles had made the 'great change' he wrote the hymn, "And Can it be, That I Should Gain": the prophetic Word
that he opened coming to pass. It might have been played in the service three days later that John was "born again." He was inspired by the Apostle Paul's writing in Galatians 2:20,
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live;
yet not I, but Christ liveth in me:
and the life which I now live in the flesh
I live by the faith of the Son of God,
who loved me,
and gave himself for me.
Agreeing with Martin Luther's vision that hymns could teach theology, he wrote to the (forgive my pun) tune of three a week. He hit the full spectrum of doctrine and liturgy.
Turn on the Light
He was thrown out of his curate position with Vicar Stonehouse of Islington, not allowed to preach there because of complaints of the churchwardens. While joining the spiritual crusade John was fomenting, he allowed his brother the leadership role, but received his share of the abuse from high and low. There is a story that he escaped the pelting from contrary mobs at the open air meeting by running into a farmhouse, and penned the words to this song:
JESU, LOVER OF MY SOUL
Jesu, lover of my soul,
Let me to thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high;
Hide me, O my Saviour hide,
Till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide,
O receive my soul at last.
2. Other refuge have I none,
Hangs my helpless soul on thee;
Leave, ah! leave me not alone,
Still support and comfort me;
All my trust on thee is stayed,
All my help from thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head
With the shadow of thy wing.
3. Wilt thou no regard my call?
Wilt thou not accept my prayer?
Lo! I sink, I faint, I fall!
Lo, on thee I cast my care!
Reach me out thy gracious hand!
While I of thy strength receive,
Hoping against hope I stand,
Dying, and behold I live.
4. Thou, O Christ, art all I want;
More than all in thee I find;
Raise the fallen, cheer the faint,
Heal the sick, and lead the blind.
Just and holy is thy name;
I am all unrighteousness;
False and full of sin I am;
Thou art full of truth and grace.
5. Plenteous grace with thee is found,
Grace to cover all my sin;
Let the healing streams abound,
Make and keep me pure within:
Thou of life the fountain art;
Freely let me take of thee;
Spring thou up within my heart,
Rise to all eternity.
What strikes me about this song is how prayerful and personal is this approach and appeal to Jesus. It seems almost the complete Christian anthem. It cries out with a desire to have an active love touching others as well as himself (or ourselves). Another story on the hymn's origins is Charles saw a sparrow, or finch fly in his window into his room seeking asylum from a pursuing hawk. It is also thought he might have written it when crossing the awesome Atlantic.
He had the same disagreement with John over his ordaining some clergy as did eldest brother Samuel, although it never caused any break of fellowship.
Two of the biggest Holy Days in Christendom are sure to feature Charles' traditionally loved favorite songs. We have "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" for Christmas -- the celebration of the Birth of Jesus Christ, and, of course, "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" for Easter -- especially Resurrection Sunday when the crucified Lord of Glory came back from the dead validating His ministry. He wrote hymns, from that time of getting "vital religion" up until he was so old he could only continue by dictating to his wife. Many times as he would be riding on his horse he would get an idea, and when he arrived home, he would run inside yelling, "Get pen and ink!" retiring to a room to put together one of his masterpieces.
His songwriting, numerically way surpassing even King David's, that succinctly expressed his views, mental, spiritual and emotional, earned him also the title of "prince of English Hymn writers. Out of his 8,989 works of verse, around 2,989 were his many unsung pieces of verse, and these lesser known works contain references to literary, classical, biographic and other sources. He wrote on a variety of subjects that included the Battle of Culloden, holidays, friends, Bible history, and even wrote children's songs.
The only one
that could ever love me
was the son of a preacher man.
Unlike John's miserable matrimony, Charles married a Miss Sarah Gwinne on April, 8, 1749 in what would be a happily ever-after affair. This musically talented lady was stricken not long after their wedding with disfiguring smallpox, and she jokingly took it in stride, remarking that she now looked the same age as her older by 17 years husband. When she was not riding behind her husband horseback on his many travels, she received his copious letters, which allow us to learn much of the Wesleys.
Two of their nine offspring would follow musically in father's steps, yet on a tragic note six died early. The surviving eldest daughter took care of her and John.
Charles would finally be able to stop 'being on the road' in 1756 and took care of the Societies in Bristol, and moved his family to London in 1771 to devote all his time there.
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
His declining health problems caught up with him on March 29, 1788, and his Sally asked her eighty year old husband if he had a word, to which he responded,
His brother, not too long after that choked up in tears when he started the line in a service with one of Charles' hymns that contained the words "alone with thee."
Some Notable Hymns
- All Praise to Him Who Dwells in Bliss
- All Praise to Our Redeeming Lord
- All Ye That Pass By
- Ambassadors of God
- And Am I Only Born to Die
- And Are We Yet Alive?
- And Can It Be That I Should Gain?
- And Let Our Bodies Part
- And Let This Feeble Body Fail
- And Must I Be to Judgment Brought
- Arise, My Soul, Arise
- Arm of the Lord, Awake, Awake!
- Author of Faith, Eternal Word
- Awake, Jerusalem, Awake!
- Away with Our Sorrow and Fear
- Be Merciful, O God, to Me (My Heart Is Fixed, O God)
- Because Thou Hast Said
- Being of Beings
- Blest Be the Dear Uniting Love
- Blow Ye the Trumpet, Blow
- By Faith We Find the Place Above
- Captain of Israel’s Host
- Celebrate Immanuel’s Name
- A Charge to Keep I Have
- Christ from Whom All Blessings Flow
- Christ the Lord Is Risen Today
- Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies
- Clap Your Hands, Ye People All
- Come Away to the Skies
- Come, and Let Us Sweetly Join
- Come, Divine Interpreter
- Come, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
- Come, Holy Ghost, Our Hearts Inspire
- Come, Let Us Join Our Friends Above (Let Saints on Earth in Concert Sing)
- Come, Let Us Join with One Accord
- Come, Let Us Anew Our Journey Pursue
- Come, Let Us Use the Grace Divine
- Come, Let Us Who in Christ Believe
- Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown
- Come, Sinners, to the Gospel Feast
- Come, Thou Almighty King
- Come, Thou Conqueror of the Nations
- Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
- Come, Ye Weary Sinners, Come
- Depth of Mercy
- Father, I Stretch My Hands to Thee
- Father, in Whom We Live
- Father of Jesus Christ, My Lord
- Father, Whose Everlasting Love
- Forever Here My Rest Shall Be
- Forth in Thy Name, O Lord
- Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild
- Give Me the Faith Which Can Remove
- Glory Be to God on High
- God Is Gone Up on High
- God Only Wise, and Great, and Strong
- Good Thou Art, and Good Thou Dost
- Great Archangel’s Trump, The
- Hail the Day That Sees Him Rise
- Hark! A Voice Divides the Sky
- Hark! the Herald Angels Sing
- He Comes! He Comes! the Judge Severe!
- Head of Thy Church, Whose Spirit Fills
- Hearken to the Solemn Voice
- Heavenly Father, Sovereign Lord
- Holy as Thou, O Lord, Is None
- How Can We Sinners Know
- How Happy Are the Little Flock
- How Happy Every Child of Grace
- I Know That My Redeemer Lives
- I Want a Principle Within
- If Death My Friend and Me Divide
- In Age and Feebleness Extreme
- Infinite God, to Thee We Raise
- Jehovah, God the Father, Bless
- Jesu, Lover of My Soul
- Jesu, My Savior, Brother, Friend
- Jesus Christ Is Risen Today
- Jesus, Faithful to His Word
- Jesus, Lord, We Look to Thee
- Jesus, Lover of My Soul
- Jesus, My Advocate Above
- Jesus, My Strength, My Hope
- Jesus, the Conqueror, Reigns
- Jesus! the Name High over All
- Jesus, the Sinner’s Friend
- Jesus, the Truth and Power Divine
- Jesus, Thine All Victorious Love
- Jesus, Thou All Redeeming Lord
- Jesus, Thou Soul of All Our Joys
- Jesus, United by Thy Grace
- Jesus, We Look to Thee
- Join, All Ye Ransomed Sons of Grace
- Lamb of God I Look to Thee
- Let Earth and Heaven Combine
- Let Us Plead for Faith Alone
- Lift Your Heads
- Light of Those Whose Dreary Dwelling
- Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending
- Lord, in the Strength of Grace
- Lord, Whom Winds and Waves Obey
- Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
- Lovers of Pleasure More Than God
- My God, I Know, I Feel Thee Mine
- My Heart Is Full of Christ
- O Come and Dwell in Me
- O for a Heart to Praise My God
- O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing
- O How Happy Are They Who the Savior Obey (How Happy Are They)
- O Jesus, My Hope
- O Love, Divine, How Sweet Thou Art
- O Love Divine, What Hast Thou Done
- O Thou Who at Thy Creature’s Bar
- O Thou Who Camest from Above
- O Thou, Whom All Thy Saints Adore
- O What Shall I Do, My Savior to Praise
- Our Earth We Now Lament to See
- Our Lord Is Risen from the Dead
- Praise the Lord Who Reigns Above
- Prisoners of Hope, Arise
- Rejoice, the Lord Is King
- Savior, Whom Our Hearts Adore
- See How Great a Flame Aspires
- See, Jesus, Thy Disciples See
- See, Sinners, in the Gospel Glass
- Shepherd Divine, Our Wants Relieve/li>
- Sing to the Great Jehovah’s Praise
- Sinners, Believe the Gospel Word
- Sinners, Obey the Gospel Word
- Sinners, Turn: Why Will You Die?
- Soldiers of Christ, Arise
- Son of the Carpenter, Receive (Servant of All, to Toil for Man)
- Spirit of Faith, Come Down
- Stand the Omnipotent Decree
- Surrounded by a Host of Foes
- Talk with Us, Lord
- Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose
- This Is Thy Will, I Know
- Thou God of Glorious Majesty
- Thou Judge of Quick and Dead
- A Thousand Oracles Divine
- Thy Ceaseless, Unexhausted Love
- ’Tis Finished! The Messiah Dies
- To Us a Child of Royal Birth
- Weary of Wandering from My God
- Weary Souls That Wander Wide
- Weep Not for a Brother Deceased
- What Shall I Do, My God to Love
- What Shall I Render to My God
- Where Shall My Wondering Soul Begin?
- Whether the Word Be Preached or Read
- Woe to the Men on Earth Who Dwell
- Would Jesus Have the Sinner Die?
- Ye Neighbors and Friends of Jesus
- Ye Ransomed Sinners, Hear
- Ye Servants of God
- Ye Thirsty for God
- Ye Waiting Souls, Arise
- Young Men and Maidens, Raise
Norwood, Frederick Abbott, The Story of American Methodism, Nashville: Parthenon Press (1981)
Great Leaders of the Christian Church, ed. John D. Woodbridge, Chicago: Moody (1988)
Eerdmans' Handbook to the History of Christianity, ed. Dr. Tim Dowley, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans (1977)
Synan Vinson, The Century of the Holy Spirit, Nashville: Thomas Nelson (2000)
Bradley, Ian, The Book of Hymns, New York: Random House (1989)
Mead, Frank S., Handbook of Denominations, Nashville: Abingdon (1981)