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Christian History Home > 131 Christians > Poets > Charles Wesley


Charles Wesley
Greatest hymn writer of all time
posted 8/08/2008 12:56PM

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Charles Wesley
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"O for a thousand tongues to sing / My dear Redeemer's praise / The glories of my God and King, / The triumphs of his grace!"

He was said to have averaged 10 poetic lines a day for 50 years. He wrote 8,989 hymns, 10 times the volume composed by the only other candidate (Isaac Watts) who could conceivably claim to be the world's greatest hymn writer. He composed some of the most memorable and lasting hymns of the church: "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," "And Can It Be," "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing," "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling," "Jesus, Lover of My Soul," "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today," "Soldiers of Christ, Arise," and "Rejoice! the Lord Is King!"

And yet he is often referred to as the "forgotten Wesley."

His brother John is considered the organizational genius behind the founding of Methodism. But without the hymns of Charles, the Methodist movement may have gone nowhere. As one historian put it, "The early Methodists were taught and led as much through [Charles's] hymns as through sermons and [John] Wesley's pamphlets."

Language scholar

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.

When older, Charles joined his siblings as each day his mother, Susannah, who knew Greek, Latin, and French, methodically taught them for six hours. Charles then spent 13 years at Westminster School, where the only language allowed in public was Latin. He added nine years at Oxford, where he received his master's degree. It was said that he could reel off the Latin poet Virgil by the half hour.

Timeline

1675

Spener's Pia Desideria advances Pietism

1678

John Bunyan writes The Pilgrim's Progress

1689

Toleration Act in England

1707

Charles Wesley born

1788

Charles Wesley dies

1789

French Revolution begins

It was off to Oxford University next, and to counteract the spiritual tepidity of the school, Charles formed the Holy Club, and with two or three others celebrated Communion weekly and observed a strict regimen of spiritual study. Because of the group's religious regimen, which later included early rising, Bible study, and prison ministry, members were called "methodists."

In 1735 Charles joined his brother John (they were now both ordained), to become a missionary in the colony of Georgia—John as chaplain of the rough outpost and Charles as secretary to Governor Oglethorpe.

Shot at, slandered, suffering sickness, shunned even by Oglethorpe, Charles could have echoed brother John's sentiments as they dejectedly returned to England the following year: "I went to America to convert the Indians, but, oh, who will convert me?"

It turned out to be the Moravians. After returning to England, Charles taught English to Moravian Peter Böhler, who prompted Charles to look at the state of his soul more deeply. During May 1738, Charles began reading Martin Luther's volume on Galatians while ill. He wrote in his diary, "I labored, waited, and prayed to feel 'who loved me, and gave himself for me.'" He shortly found himself convinced, and journaled, "I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoice in hope of loving Christ." Two days later he began writing a hymn celebrating his conversion.

Evangelistic preacher

At evangelist George Whitefield's instigation, John and Charles eventually submitted to "be more vile" and do the unthinkable: preach outside of church buildings. In his journal entries from 1739 to 1743, Charles computed the number of those to whom he had preached. Of only those crowds for whom he stated a figure, the total during these five years comes to 149,400.




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