Charles Wesley: 1707 - 1788
Charles Wesley was born almost a month premature. His parents looked at his little motionless body and thought he was stillborn. Miraculously, he survived to become one of the most influential Christian leaders of the 18th Century.
While studying at Oxford, Charles and his brother John started the "Holy Club" to give themselves to Bible study, prayer, and visitation. Later, both brothers acknowledged that, at that time, they lacked a personal faith in Christ's saving grace.
However, being humbled by a failed missionary trip to Georgia in 1738, Wesley replaced his faith in his own efforts with faith in Christ's saving work and was "at peace with God."
The following five decades, Wesley helped lead the revival that spread throughout England. Convinced that what people sing is what they believe, he composed thousands of hymns. Charles Wesley died in his eighty-first year after having spent his life proclaiming: "Behold the Lamb!"
Soldiers of Christ, Arise
Soldiers of Christ, arise,
And put your armor on,
Strong in the strength which God supplies,
Thro' His eternal Son;
Strong in the Lord of Hosts,
And in His mighty pow'r,
Who in the strength of Jesus trusts
Is more than conqueror.
Stand then in His great might,
With all His strength endued;
And take, to arm you for the fight,
The panoply of God;
That, having all things done,
And all your conflicts past,
Ye may o'ercome through Christ alone,
And stand complete at last.
Leave no unguarded place,
No weakness of the soul,
Take every virtue, every grace,
And fortify the whole;
To keep your armor bright
Attend with constant care,
Still walking in your Captain's sight
And watching unto prayer.
Pray, without ceasing pray,
Your Captain gives the word;
His summons cheerfully obey,
And call upon the Lord:
To God your every want
In instant prayer display;
Pray always; pray, and never faint;
Pray, without ceasing pray.
From strength to strength go on;
Wrestle, and fight, and pray;
Tread all the powers of darkness down,
And win the well-fought day:
Still let the Spirit cry
In all His soldiers, "Come!"
Till Christ the Lord descend from high,
And take the conquerors home.
And Can It Be, That I Should Gain
And can it be, that I should gain
An interest in the Savior's blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
'Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies!
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love Divine!
'Tis mercy all! let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.
He left His Father's throne above,
So free, so infinite His grace;
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam's helpless race:
'Tis mercy all, immense and free;
For, O my God, it found out me.
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature's night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness Divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Arise, my soul, arise!
Arise, my soul, arise!
Shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding Sacrifice
In my behalf appears.
Before the throne my Surety stands;
My name is written on His hands,
My name is written on His hands.
He ever lives above
For me to intercede,
His all-redeeming love,
His precious blood to plead.
His blood was shed for all our race,
And sprinkles now the throne of grace.
And sprinkles now the throne of grace.
Five bleeding wounds He bears,
Received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers;
They strongly speak for me.
Forgive Him, Oh, forgive, they cry,
No let that ransomed sinner die!
No let that ransomed sinner die!
The Father hears Him pray,
His dear anointed One;
He cannot turn away
The presence of His Son.
His Spirit answers to the blood,
And tells me I am born of God.
And tells me I am born of God.
To God I'm reconciled,
His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child,
I can no longer fear.
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And Father, Abba, Father, cry.
And Father, Abba, Father, cry.
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty
HOLY, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty!
Unto everlasting days
Our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, Holy, Holy, Merciful and Mighty,
God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity!
Holy, holy, holy! all the saints adore Thee,
Heavens elders cast their crowns
Down by the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim worship too before thee,
Who wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.
Holy, holy, holy! though the darkness hide thee,
Though the eye of sinful man
Thy glory may not see,
Only Thou art holy, there is none beside Thee
Perfect in power, in love, and purity!
Jesus, Lover Of My Soul
Jesus, 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 Savior hide,
Till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide;
O receive my soul at last.
Other refuge have I none,
Hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, oh, 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.
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;
Vile and full of sin I am,
Thou art full of truth and grace.
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.
Love Divine, All Love Excelling
Love Divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heav'n, to earth come down;
Fix in us Thy humble dwelling,
All Thy faithful mercies crown;
Jesus, Thou art all compassion;
Pure, unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation,
Enter ev'ry trembling heart.
Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit
Into every troubled breast;
Let us all in Thee inherit,
Let us find the promised rest.
Take away the love of sinning;
Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its beginning,
Set our hearts at liberty.
Come, Almighty, to deliver,
Let us all Thy life receive;
May Thy presence e'er be with us,
Never more Thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve Thee as Thou wouldst approve,
Pray, and praise Thee without ceasing,
Glory in Thy perfect love.
Finish, then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be;
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee;
Changed from glory into glory
Till with Thee we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.
O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing
O 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.
His love my heart has captive made,
His captive would I be,
To He was bound, and scourged and died,
My captive soul to free.
He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.
So now Thy blessed Name I love,
Thy will would e'er be mine.
Had I a thousand hearts to give,
My Lord, they all were Thine!-
During the eighteenth century, English society was influenced by the philosophy of the Enlightenment, with its rejection of faith and its foundational belief that unending progress could be achieved through human reasoning alone. The Wesley brothers witnessed firsthand the waste and ruin that this godless philosophy brought forth.
Revolution was coming! England was plunged into a roiling cauldron of unrest: It was embroiled in a deadly combination of impersonal state religion, an aloof and arrogant aristocracy, and the angry masses who were afflicted by industrialization's dehumanizing misery and blight.
The Age of Faith
In response, God raised up men like Charles and John Wesley to issue in the Age of Faith to ensure that this revolution would be a spiritual one.
Childhood: Destined to Serve
Charles Wesley was born on the frigid day of December 18th in 1707, the eighteenth child of Samuel and Susanna Wesley. His arrival was almost a month premature, and for almost that long he lay nearly motionless, eyes shut. His shallow breathing was symptomatic of underdeveloped lungs, and his anxious parents seriously doubted his ability to survive.
Nevertheless, this believing couple offered up much prayer, and how grateful they were to see young Charles, at about the time he should have been born, simultaneously open his eyes and let out the cry of a newborn. Despite his shaky beginning, Charles survived infancy, only the ninth of the eighteen children thus far to do so, and became a faithful servant of God.
Charles' father, Samuel (1662-1735), was educated at Oxford and became a rector of the Church of England. After other appointments, he was given the curacy of St. Andrews at Epworth in Lincolnshire, where the family resided for nearly thirty-nine years.
But there in Epworth, Samuel was like a square peg trying to wedge itself into a round hole. His stern and stiff approach to the population was not well received, to say the least. He frequently suffered public mockery and criticism. His cattle were even found stabbed. And the famous late-night burning of his home (from which his son John was barely saved) was of a highly suspicious origin. All was lost in that fire, plunging the family into poverty for thirteen years, during which they were also attempting to bear the burden of financing their sons' education. Poor Reverend Wesley often found himself in debtor's prison.
Yet in spite of the many hindrances to his ministry, he was most tenacious in his efforts to win the village for Christ. Additionally, he and Susanna shared a missionary spirit, and their hearts were broadened by a burden for the whole world. This steadfast care for the lost was undoubtedly passed on to Charles and his brother John.
Samuel was also a "lifelong and painstaking student and interpreter of the Scriptures" and of the ancient languages of "Hebrew, Chaldee, Syriac, Arabic, Greek, and Latin." He wrote Life of Christ and History of the Old and New Testaments in three volumes, both works composed completely in rhyme, reflecting special capacities that would shine forth in his third son, Charles.
Charles' mother, Susanna (1669-1742) was raised in a deeply spiritual non-Conformist home. While growing up, she had learned how to have a personal and daily experience with Christ, and her living faith was anything but stiff and formal.
Susanna managed a well-ordered home with an emphasis on spiritual training. Consequently, "the careful use of time, regularity for meals, family devotions morning and evening ... to all this [Charles] was accustomed, probably more than any other eight-year-old boy in England."
She had a sweetly compelling influence on Charles and his siblings. Having been well educated as a child (she was fluent in Latin, Greek, and French), she was able to educate all of her children, ensuring that they had a thorough knowledge of language and literature.
Thus, at home as well as at church meetings, Charles was exposed to much of the literary world as well as the best of Biblical instruction. In fact, the Wesley home was well known for its abundance of books. Even some were tucked away in Susanna's kitchen cupboards! Her love of the power of words, along with her husband's love of poetry, was easily seen in the considerable poetic talents of Charles.
The Lost World
But it was in the village that he observed another world-that of the lost! Charles saw there a microcosm of the wretched condition of England's masses. The Great Britain of Wesley's day was sharply divided into three disparate social worlds-the sincerely religious, the wealthy and often falsely religious, and the irreligious masses of the poor.
At home, through his parents, Charles had seen the sincerely religious. However, in his village he had witnessed the desperate need of the lost and the poor. Contrary to popular romantic notions of old England, in the days of Charles Wesley, most of England's masses were unbelieving, irreverent, vulgar, uneducated, alcoholic, and immoral. Vice was rampant, as were the diseases and maladies that accompany it. The multitudes' need for the Great Physician had become glaringly apparent to both Charles and John.
It was certainly God's divine arrangement for Charles to have been born of God-fearing parents, yet to experience life in the midst of bleak poverty. While both his parents and his neighbors were poor, the contrast in their level of contentment and joy could not have been sharper.
A Classic Education
From the age of eight to thirty, Charles "was so immersed in the ... great men of the bygone era" of Greece and Rome that he "took on their habits of mind and their forms of expression." After an education in the classics at Westminster Abbey, where he rose to the equivalent of student-body president, he followed his brother John to Oxford in 1726 as a "King's Scholar."
Challenged at Oxford: Faced with Debauchery
While at Oxford, Charles encountered another world-the wealthy upper class. He had looked forward to finding among them a more civilized and cultured standard than he had been used to at Epworth. But before long, and to his horror, he discovered that the renowned Oxford had sunk deeply into debauchery and utter banality. Students seldom studied and professors rarely taught. The library was mostly empty while lazy, carousing students frittered away their hours in drunkenness, coarse jesting, gambling, vain boasting, and other vices.
The belief in Deism, that God was merely an impersonal being, was becoming widespread. In religion, certain prevalent doctrines had reduced humanity to two corporate entities: the saved and the lost. God cared only for the elect, and that as a collective whole. The individual believer dared not bother God with daily minutiae and could only hope that he had somehow been born among the chosen.
A Preserved Vessel
Though somewhat influenced in his first year, Charles preserved his vessel: "'Tis owing, in great measure, to somebody's prayers (my mother's most likely) that ... I awoke out of my lethargy." Charles did more than shake off his own lethargy. In 1726, he and two classmates, Robert Kirkham and William Morgan, formed a club with the intention of aiding each other in their studies, reading and discussing books, and holding regular communion services. Charles excelled at his studies. For example, he could recite most of the Roman poet Virgil in the original Latin from memory.
Soon, George Whitefield, the future gospel messenger to America, was also convinced to become a member. The little group eventually grew to about twenty-five members and came to be called the "Holy Club" by other students. This designation wasn't exactly a term of endearment as most saw them as overzealous believers.
Pursuing the Holy Life
Eventually, when Charles' brother John returned to Oxford after spending about two years assisting his father as curate in Epworth, he assumed leadership of the group. In their pursuit of a holy life, they began to develop strict rules of conduct and "methods" for rigorous study, as prescribed by the Statutes of the University.
They rose each morning at 4:00 for an hour of individual prayer followed by an hour of group prayer and two hours of personal Bible study. The rest of the day was typically filled with visiting the condemned at the vile Newgate prison, helping debtors out of jail, assisting the prisoners' families, visiting the sick, and confessing their sins to one another. For these practices, they were called "Methodists" for obvious reasons. Perhaps to the surprise of many, the Holy Club embraced their new name and the rest, as they say, is history.
The members of the Holy Club had the law-keeping zeal of Saul of Tarsus-and compared to others, if anyone could have earned God's favor, it was this group. However, all of these works, though sincerely done for God, were also done without God. For as yet, Whitefield and the Wesleys, the unprecedented evangelistic trio, did not know for themselves true conversion to Christ. Yet, John and Charles both chose to follow in the path of their beloved father, becoming ordained ministers in the Church of England.
Their Deepest Need Revealed: An Extraordinary Influence
In 1735, Charles' father, Samuel, was suffering his final bout with illness and was nigh to death. He prophetically said to Charles: "Be steady. The Christian faith will surely revive in this kingdom; you shall see it, though I shall not."
Of Samuel it was said that he "was far in advance of his sons, both in evangelical knowledge and spiritual attainments. He enjoyed the Christian salvation, the nature and method of which neither John nor Charles at that time understood. When their views of divine truth were corrected and matured, they simply taught what their venerable parent experienced and testified upon the bed of death."
Trust amidst the Storm
That same year, Charles and John went on a missionary trip to Georgia. During the voyage, an exceedingly violent storm with massive waves shattered the mainsail and penetrated the main cabin:
Most of the passengers were overcome by fear, but while they screamed in terror, the Moravians, who were in the midst of a hymn while the storm was at its worst, calmly continued to sing and pray. John asked if one of them was afraid. He answered, "I thank God, no." "But, were your women and children not afraid?" He replied mildly, "No, our women and children are not afraid to die." John admits ... he himself was filled with fear.... He knew nothing of the peace these people possessed. This was the first experience of evangelical Christianity, and it left a mark that would not be erased.
The Moravians' trust amid the storm created disquietude within the Wesleys, unveiling their deepest need for the Prince of Peace.
No Life Ministered
The missionary trip ended in disappointment. Vexed and discouraged, Charles would learn through harsh experience the failure and hopelessness of his strict methodistic practices: a lethal combination of self-manufactured piety, negative legalism, and heavy-handed church discipline. There was no life ministered because "his only message ... was one of works, and he was still unaware of the great, fundamental truth that he was soon to experience ... of ‘justification by faith.'"
Seeking Salvation: Saved By Faith
Soon after returning to England, Charles and John became "aware that there is such an experience as ‘the new birth.'" Their friend George Whitefield had recently received the Lord Jesus, and Charles heard him preach to seeking throngs: "Ye must be born again."
Soon afterward, the Moravian Peter Bohler shared daily with Charles and John that the way to be saved was not by best endeavors, but by faith in Christ. Meanwhile, they each had been reading different writings of Martin Luther, "who set both brothers before the door of faith and put their hands on its handle."
Nothing But Christ
Charles became ill and was being cared for by a family named Bray. Mr. Bray prayed and read the Scriptures with him: "God sent Mr. Bray ..., a poor ignorant mechanic, who knows nothing but Christ; yet by knowing Him, knows and discerns all things."
In the days leading up to his hour of salvation, Charles made yet another attempt to gain salvation by faithless participation in a religious ritual: He decided to receive the sacrament, but was greatly disappointed and later noted that, in so doing, he had not received Christ.
Charles knew that he lacked genuine faith that is "necessarily productive of all good works and all holiness." He had done his best, labored his hardest for God, yet still "continued all day in great dejection, which the sacrament did not in the least abate." Then, at salvation's moment, he abandoned his efforts and placed all trust in the finished work of Christ and was amazed at God's love and His provision of a Savior.
The Day of Deliverance
To Charles, Sunday, May 21, 1738, "was the day of deliverance, ... the day for which he will borrow the experience of Peter in the jail of Herod, or Paul in the prison at Philippi, and the language of David, Isaiah, and Jesus Christ." At last, he believed! The writing of "And Can It Be?" is closely connected to his conversion to Christ. Only days before, he had written,
Weary of struggling with my pain
Hopeless to trust my nature's chain.
But, as one redeemed, he marveled:
How shall I all to heaven aspire?
A slave redeemed from death and sin,
A brand pluck'd from eternal fire.
In that same hymn, his eventual calling to evangelism could be seen:
Come, O my guilty brethren, come,
Groaning beneath your load of sin!
His bleeding heart shall make you room,
His open side shall take you in,
He calls you now, invites you home!
Come, O my guilty brethren, come!
At Peace with God
If Charles Wesley's circumstances had been of one found in a state of obvious and outward miserable wretchedness, we would have easily understood his wonderment at his salvation. But no-Wesley was properly raised in a Christian home!
Yet, at salvation's moment-bathed in salvation's light-he was enveloped by the truth. Before he found faith's glorious reality, he had had only a show of holiness. The "Holy Club" had not been holy at all. Inwardly, he had been "fast bound in sin and nature's night," but on his day of epiphany, he realized that true holiness could be his reality, simply because the Holy One, Christ Jesus, lived in him.
Now a significant load of self-imposed striving was lifted, releasing what he described as "a new enthusiasm, a new glow, a spiritual buoyancy." Charles felt this way: "I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoiced in hope." And John would trust in Christ and be saved three days later!
A Life of Service
Ministry on Death Row: Overwhelmed by Love
Shortly after his conversion to Christ, Charles Wesley was again ministering the gospel to the men condemned to death at London's Newgate prison. In one cell, he came upon a feverish black man sentenced to death for having robbed his master. Wesley recounted,
I told him of One Who came down from heaven to save lost sinners, and him in particular; [I] described the sufferings of the Son of God, His sorrows, agony, and death. He listened with all the signs of eager astonishment; the tears trickled down his cheeks while he cried, "What? Was it for me? Did He suffer all this for so poor a creature as me?"
Wesley was deeply moved. "I found myself overwhelmed with the love of Christ to sinners."
The night before the executions, Wesley and his fellow minister Mr. Bray remained locked in with those prisoners who were condemned to die early the next morning. One by one, each prisoner's expression was transported from that of hopelessness and the dread of impending death to peacefulness and the promise of eternal life.
The Ransom Paid
Morning came and with it the cart that carried the condemned men to the gallows. All the way, Wesley comforted those about to die. He led them to sing a hymn his father had written:
Behold the Saviour of mankind,
Nail'd to the shameful tree!
How vast the love that Him inclined
To bleed and die for thee!
'Tis done! the precious ransom's paid;
"Receive my soul!" He cries;
See where He bows His sacred head!
He bows His head, and dies.
My Jesus and My All
Wesley continued to bestow prayers and tender love, even kisses, upon each man he could reach; then he led them in a hymn that included this verse:
A guilty, weak and helpless worm,
Into thy hands I fall;
Be thou my life, my righteousness,
My Jesus and my all.
Peace in the Face of Death
The men were led to the scaffold, and a rope was slung around each neck. The whip cracked, the horses sprang forward, and the cart lurched away. As the men plunged downward, not one bristled or resisted, for they could now face God in peace.
Wesley shared a few final words of comfort to the witnessing crowd. Later, he summarized this most moving experience: "[We] returned full of peace in our friends' happiness. That hour under the gallows was the most blessed hour of my life."
Itinerant Gospel Ministry: Preaching in the Open Air
George Whitefield, who pioneered the preaching of the gospel in the open air to literally tens of thousands, led Charles and John Wesley to join him, thus propelling them into their prevailing ministry. By being barred from the pulpit, the Wesleys were used to reach the English masses who most needed to hear the gospel.
Overcome with Delight
Crowds of "ten thousand helpless sinners waiting" for an invitation to Christ gathered in fields and parks. Charles spoke "of a ‘supernatural strength' given to him in his preaching and of a spiritual joy so intense that both he and his hearers were overcome with tears of delight."
The Wesleys eventually traveled as itinerant gospel messengers, preaching across a giant circuit in all of England.
Suffering for the Lord
However, eighteenth-century England's spiritual revolution was obtained at great cost. The Wesleys often suffered persecution from angry mobs who cursed, beat, and stoned them in village after village. The ruffians, under no restraint from the authorities, attacked the Wesleys with "fierceness and diabolical malice."
Revolution of Repentance
Nevertheless, when the rabble met with the love of Christ, many repented and turned to Him. The revolution of repentance spread throughout all of England, as Charles said, "All opposition falls before us, or rather is fallen ... this also the Lord wrought."
A Life Well Lived: A Prolific Hymnist
In addition to helping lead the revival that spread throughout England, Charles Wesley was also greatly used as a hymn writer. Convinced that what people sing is what they believe, he composed thousands of hymns. He is credited with writing almost 9,000-nearly ten times the number of another prolific hymnist Isaac Watts. He composed at a pace of more than ten lines of verse a day for fifty years.
His hymns fueled the Methodist movement during its swift rise to prominence. His underlying motivation was to provide a "tool" of sorts whereby a sermon could be memorized and delivered intact from city to outpost, from cathedral to revival meeting. At this he was magnificently successful.
His brother John, in fact, once said that within the fifty-six volumes of hymns Charles ultimately produced could be found a "full account of Scriptural Christianity." Charles intended that his hymns be sermons built on the inerrant, unshakeable Word of God.
He was also able to give majestic articulation to the infinite and awesome power and glory of our Lord in ways that few writers have matched and none have exceeded. Even the titles of his hymns are expressions of praise: "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today," "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling," "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing," and the one included in the Come and Rejoice collection, "And Can It Be?"
It is little wonder that the renowned nineteenth century preacher Henry Ward Beecher once said, "I would rather have written one of Charles Wesley's hymns than to have the fame of all the kings that ever sat on the earth."
Called HomeCharles Wesley's call to evangelism could be seen throughout more than fifty years of preaching Christ. As he lay dying, he dictated lines of his final poem to his wife, expressing his eternal hope in Christ.
Jesus, my only hope Thou art,
Strength of my failing flesh and heart.
Charles Wesley was called home to the Lord on Saturday, March 29, 1788, during his eighty-first year after having spent his life proclaiming: "Behold the Lamb!"