Charles Wesley


Charles Wesley (1707-1788) is one of the most important and prolific hymn writers in the English language. The life story of the Wesley brothers is remarkable, and even more so when one realizes that Charles Wesley had never written a hymn before his conversion experience. However, he went on to write over 7500 hymns on hundreds of scripture texts and on every conceivable phase of Christian experience and Methodist theology.

Charles Wesley, an English clergyman, poet, and hymn writer, was born at Epworth, Lincolnshire, England, on December 18, 1707. He was the youngest son of Samuel and Susanna Wesley and the brother of John Wesley. In 1726 he entered Christ Church College, Oxford. During his time there he formed the Holy Club, a group dedicated to a methodical approach to Bible study and charitable works. The group, later taken over by John Wesley, was ridiculed and derisively referred to as the "Methodists." In 1735 Charles was ordained an Anglican priest and, at John's insistence, sailed with him to the colony of Georgia [in what is now the United States]. Once there he became private secretary to General James Oglethorpe. Charles returned to England in 1736 because of health problems and his inability to carry out his assigned duties. Wesley experienced a religious conversion in 1738 and began preaching in London churches. His evangelical style angered church officials, and by 1739 he was barred from the pulpit. For the next ten years Charles was an itinerate preacher and traveled constantly with his brother John. Following his marriage to Sarah Gwynn in 1749 he stopped traveling and spent his time overseeing Methodist places of worship in London. Charles remained faithful to the Church of England and was angered when John began ordaining preachers for service in Scotland and America. Charles Wesley's most significant contribution was in his hymns. He published more than 4,500 hymns and left some 3,000 in manuscript. He died in London on March 29, 1788.

[From Charles Wesley, Pitts Theological Library Archives and Manuscripts Dept., Emory University, Atlanta, GA, where a manuscript copy of Charles Wesley's poetic version of the Psalms is archived. At the beginning of the book is a note written by Thomas Jackson, a noted Methodist historian, indicating that the greater part of the volume is in the hand of Edward Perronet, an associate of Wesley. The last twelve pages are in Wesley's hand. ]

Charles Wesley wrote approximately 6500 hymns, many of which are among the finest hymns in the English language. Charles did not begin writing hymns until after his 'heart warming' experience on Whitsunday, 1738, whereupon he wrote his first hymn, 'Where shall my wondering soul begin?'


Here are the traits of the Wesleyan hymn according to form and content:

FORM

1. Rich in the variety of poetic meters
2. Sound and sense coincide, that is, individual lines express complete thoughts.
3. Bold and free in scriptural paraphrase. Imaginative comment on scriptural passages
4. Skillful mixture of Anglo-Saxon and Latin vocabulary.
5. Masterful use of literary devices.

CONTENT

1. Replete with Christian dogma. Reflects Moravian influence, is Armenian in theology. Hymns taken as a body constitute skillfully condensed doctrine.
2. Full of scriptural allusion.
3. Express of passionate Christian experience. Every mood of the Christian soul is expressed.
4. Simple and smooth. Important matters concerning God and the souls of humans are dealt with simply and directly.
5. Mystical, (“glowing with a luminous quality transfiguring history and experience.”)

The Wesley hymnic language reflects an appropriate intimacy in which God is talked to as a friend. This quality makes these hymns timeless and universal.

[form Sing with Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Hymnody, Second Edition, Revised, Harry Eskew and Hugh McElrath (Nashville: Church Street Press, 1995) ]

Hymns by Charles Wesley:

A charge to keep I have MH 413
Come, thou long-expected Jesus MH 196
Christ the Lord is risen today MH 302
Hail the day that sees Him rise MH 312
Hark! The herald angels sing MH 240
Jesus, Lover of my soul MH 479
Love divine, all loves excelling MH 384
O for a thousand tongues to sing MH 57
Praise the Lord who reigns above MH 96
Rejoice, the Lord is king MH 715
Come, O thou traveler unknown MH 386
And can it be that I should gain MH 363


Charles Wesley biography (General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church)

The Journal of Charles Wesley, 1736-1756 (The Wesley Center for Applied Theology)

CHARLES WESLEY: HEART of the EVANGELICAL REVIVAL (gospelcom.net)

John Wesley

Augustus Toplady

John Newton

Olney Hymns

George Herbert

John Milton


Some sites devoted to the Wesleys, including Wesleyan theology and piety

John Wesley's, Directions for Singing

The Wesley's and Their Times (Resources on the Wesleys, The General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church)

Wesley Center for Applied Theology -- This page takes a LONG time to load. Please be patient.

Center for Methodist Studies (Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. A list of collections -- no links.)

The Hymns of Charles Wesley (General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church)

Women and Wesley's Times (General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church)

British Methodism and the Poor (Methodist Archives and Research Center)

The Foundry (Methodist Archives and Research Center)

John Wesley : An On-line Exhibition (Methodist Archives and Research Center) -- LOTS of pictures

Methodist Archives and Research Center Image Collection -- LOTS of pictures

The Methodist Church: A Brief History


The Hymns of Charles Wesley

The Hymns of Methodism in their Literary Relations (The Christian Classics Ethereal Library)

A detailed analysis of the many literary influences detectable in the hymns of John and Charles Wesley.

The Hymns of Wesley and Watts: Five Papers (The Christian Classics Ethereal Library)

These five papers expound the virtues of Wesley's Hymns from a "soul-stirring passion of the Evangelical faith" and with a "pleasantly acid wit".

A Colection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists (The Christian Classics Ethereal Library)

“...a hymn-book as might be generally used in all our congregations throughout Great Britain and Ireland.”

Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists

A paper read to the University Methodist Society at Wesley Church, Cambridge, on Sunday, November 20, 1932.

Charles Wesley (The Cyberhymnal) -- bio and list of MANY hymns, many whith MIDI files.


Good Research Sites

Methodist Archive and Research Center



Charles Wesley's tomb at Marlybone Chapel Cemetery, London, England


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Site last updated: January 17, 2004