Charles Wesley was born the 18th child of Rev. Samuel and Susanna Wesley on December 18, 1707. He was premature – “several weeks before his time, he appeared more dead than alive. He did not cry, nor open his eyes, and was kept wrapped up in soft wool until the time when he should have been born … and then he opened his eyes and cried” (A Heart Set Free, by A. Dallimore, page 23).
England at the time of Wesley’s birth was in a state of stale religion and social decay. Immorality, violence and drunkenness prevailed, along with illiteracy and hopelessness. The death penalty was applied to crimes great and small in effort to tame unruly behaviour.
Susanna was a devoted and productive mother or strict disciplines and Samuel hoped that his children would help restore the church to spiritual health. Charles and his brother John, four years his senior, both attended Oxford at young age and were distressed by the careless lives of the other students (all males at that time). Not yet being born again, the young brothers maintained their commitment to the pious values taught them by their parents and formed a society of committed chaps who were determined to read the Bible, fast, pray, live pure, attend Holy Communion regularly and visit the sick and needy. Their disciplines earned them the derisive labels of “The Holy Club” and “Methodists” (in view of their disciplined method). When deeper spiritual awakening impacted them in later years they were able to use the methodological disciplines to raise up generations of effective ministers.
Charles returned home from Oxford to visit his dying father, who laid his hand upon his son’s head and said: “Be steady. The Christian faith will surely revive in this kingdom. You shall see it, though I shall not”.
That same year the two brothers sailed for the colony of Georgia, in the New World (America) planning to be missionaries to the Indians. When a great storm struck their vessel the Wesleys were fearful, but the Moravian Christians with them were untroubled. This deeply impacted the brothers and prompted them to seek out the Moravians when they returned to England, and learned the way of God more perfectly from them.
Charles was 31 when his spiritual eyes were opened, on 21 May, 1738, just three days before his brother, John, also came into the assurance of sins forgiven … and together these two “sons of Susanna” (along with George Whitefield) launched the Methodist Revival.
Charles and John initially worked together, preaching and ministering with great effect, but when Charles married in 1749 he stayed at home more and resided in Bristol for many years. However, he was always the sweet singer of Methodism. As a hymn writer he was unique.
Charles left his mark by writing about 6,500 hymns – “on every conceivable phase of Christian experience and Methodist theology”. In his study, in his garden, on horseback, hardly a day passed for the next 50 years that he did not write a hymn. He even dictated a hymn to his wife from his deathbed! (C. Wesley, by V. Clark, page 28).
When Whitefield died – despite theological differences – Charles Wesley wrote a ‘biographical’ poem – 536 lines in length (Dallimore, pages 238-9).
Among his great contributions to the hymnology of the church are: “Jesus, Lover of my soul”, “And can it be”, “Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing”, “Love Divine, all loves excelling”, “Soldiers of Christ arise”, “Hark the herald angels sing”, “Christ the Lord is risen today”… and many, many more.
Charles Wesley died on 29 March, 1788.
This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com