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Charles and John Wesley

by Christopher Knapp

Charles WesleyCharles and John Wesley were so closely associated in their work that we speak of the brothers together. Though John, the great preacher, did not himself write many hymns, he translated a considerable number, notably some by Zinzendorf and Gerhardt.

Charles, the younger of the two by five years, was born at Epworth, Lincolnshire, England, in the year 1708. He was the youngest of 18 children; but nine of them had died in infancy, so that the mother, no doubt, often wondered if she would be able to raise the infant Charles. But the God who gave him being, spared him for the work He had for him to do, which is the only real reason any of us have for living, as a Christian catechism for generations has rightly taught: "The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”

Charles received the beginning of his education from his godly mother, and later studied under his brother Samuel at Westminster School. After obtaining his degree from Oxford, he came out to the new colony of Georgia in America as secretary to the governor, General Oglethorpe. "At that time," one writes, he "was not experimentally a Christian, though he was ordained, and kept himself busily engaged in missionary work among the Indians.”

So one may come from a Christian home, you see, be highly educated, and an "ordained minister" even, and yet not be a Christian at all! Scripture says, twice over, "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Prov. 14:12; 16:25). Perhaps God has repeated this warning in His Word because He knew how many would take this way that seems right—thinking that because they say prayers and do good works they will be saved; so, in His compassion, God warns such, that they might trust to nothing but CHRIST, who says, "I am the Way;" and, No man cometh unto the Father, but by Me" (John 14:6).

The next year Charles Wesley was truly converted to God, and for many years traveled all over England and Ireland with his brother John, preaching the gospel to high and low, Protestants and Catholics alike, offering to all salvation through "the blood of the Lamb”

On May 21, 1739 (the date of his conversion a year before), Charles Wesley commemorated the triumph of grace over his previous darkness and gloom by composing this memorable and worthy hymn of praise to his Redeemer:

"Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing
   My great Redeemer's praise;
The glories of my God and King,
  The triumphs of His grace!

My gracious Master and my God,
  Assist me to proclaim—
To spread through all the earth abroad
  The honors of Thy Name.

Jesus!—the Name that charms our fears,
  That bids our sorrows cease;
'Tis music in the sinner's ears,
  'Tis life, and health, and peace.

He breaks the power of canceled sin,
  He sets the pris'ner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean
  His blood availed for me!

He speaks—and, list'ning to His voice,
  New life the dead receive;
The mournful, broken hearts rejoice;
  The humble poor believe.

Hear Him, ye deaf! His praise, ye dumb,
  Your loosen'd tongues employ!
Ye blind, behold your Saviour come,
  And leap, ye lame, for joy!"

For nearly fifty years Charles Wesley wrote hymns which he composed as he went about preaching. As is almost invariably the case, it was on great occasions and in times of trouble and persecution that he wrote his best hymns.

It is told that at one time when he "had just begun a hymn in the open air, intending to preach to the gathering crowd, some half-drunken fellows came and struck up the tune of 'Nancy Dawson.' Between the hymn and their song it was sorry music, but the preacher's ear was quick enough to catch the meter of their song, and to master their tune there and then. He invited them to come again by-and-by, when he would be there and sing a song to their tune. They came, and he gave out a new hymn made for the occasion. The rough and merry tars seemed to enjoy the hymn more than their old song." The first verse will show how the new hymn suited the rough fellows who helped to sing it:

"Listed in the cause of sin,
  Why should a good be evil?
Music, alas! has too long been
  Pressed to obey the devil."

It means that their singing was good, but employed in a bad way.

Charles Wesley was the most prolific hymn writer of any age or country. He published nearly four thousand hymns of his own composition, and at his death two thousand more were left in manuscript! Two of his best-known hymns are:

"Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly;
While the nearer waters roll
While the tempest still is high."

It is a fervent hymn, of four stanzas, which he wrote shortly after his conversion.

A touching incident is related in connection with the other,

"Depth of mercy! can there be
  Mercy still reserved for me?—
Can my God His wrath forbear,
  Me, the chief of sinners, spare?”

This was being sung by children as a young actress was passing on her way to he theater where she was to play her part. Need was in her soul, and dissatisfaction with her life. The sweet voices of children together with the words sung went to her heart:

"I have long withstood His grace,
Long provoked Him to His face;
Would not harken to His calls,
Grieved Him by a thousand falls.

"There for me the Savior stands,
Shows His wounds and spreads His hands:
God is love, I know and feel—
Jesus lives and loves me still.”

Surely it was the Holy Spirit speaking to her soul by these children, for when she reached the theater and came to the stage, the absorbing thought of the hymn forced itself to her lips, and the words,

"Depth of mercy, can there be
Mercy still reserved for me?”

rang out before the startled audience, wondering at what had happened. It was the new birth of a soul whom the Holy Spirit was quickening into life, but of which the natural man is ignorant.

Charles Wesley passed away "to be with Christ," March 28,1788, in his 81st year. His brother John, five years older than Charles, like him confesses that he was preaching and trying to convert the Indians before he was himself converted. God had mercy upon him "because he did it ignorantly in unbelief" (1 Tim. 1:13). He was brought into the light at a little meeting of the Moravian Brethren in London, on his return from Georgia.

He was a very remarkable servant of Christ, and had marvelous powers of endurance. He could go to sleep at will, it is said, and with his clothing saturated with rain could lie down in it anywhere, even in the cold, and sleep the night through without harm, He is said to have preached 40,000 sermons in his life-time, and traveled a quarter of a million miles! He more than once slept soundly in a damp cellar or basement with nothing under his head for a pillow but his Bible.

His last sermon was preached when he was eighty-eight years old, it was from the text, "Seek ye the Lord while He may be found; call ye upon Him while He is near" (Isa. 55:6). He died soon after, March 2, 1791.

The Sinner's Friend by Charles Wesley

Jesus,the sinner's Friend, to Thee,
Lost and undone, for aid I flee;
Weary of earth, myself, and sin,
Open Thine arms and take me in.

At last I own it cannot be
That I should fit myself for Thee:
Here, then, to Thee I all resign;
Thine is the work, and only Thine.

What can I say Thy grace to move?
Lord, I am sin—but Thou art love:
I give up every plea beside,
Lord, I am lost—but Thou hast died!

The Praises of Jesus by Charles Wesley

Ye servants of God, your Master proclaim,
And publish abroad His wonderful name;
The name all-victorious of Jesus extol;
His kingdom is glorious, He rules over all.

He ruleth on high, almighty to save:
And still He is nigh—His presence we have;
The great congregation His triumphs shall sing,
Ascribing salvation to Jesus our King.

Salvation to God who sits on the throne,
Let all cry aloud and honor the Son;
The praises of Jesus the angels proclaim,
Fall down on their faces and worship the Lamb.

Then let us adore and give Him His right,
All glory and power, and wisdom and might,
All honor and blessing, with angels above,
And thanks never ceasing, and infinite love.

From Who Wrote Our Hymns by Christopher Knapp. New York: Loizeaux Brothers, [1925?].

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