Charles Wesley; December 18, 1707 – March 19, 1788) was an English leader of the Methodist movement, son of Anglican clergyman and poet Samuel Wesley, the younger brother of Methodist founder John Wesley and Anglican clergyman Samuel Wesley the Younger. He was father of musician Samuel Wesley and grandfather of musician Samuel Sebastian Wesley. Despite their closeness, Charles and his brother John did not always agree on questions relating to their beliefs. In particular, Charles was strongly opposed to the idea of a breach with the Church of England into which they had both been ordained. Charles Wesley is mostly remembered for the over 6,000 hymns he wrote. He ministered for part of his life in The New Room Chapel in Bristol. His house, located nearby, can still be visited.
Charles Wesley was the son of Susanna Wesley and Samuel Wesley. He was born in Epworth, Lincolnshire, England, where his father was rector. He was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford. At Oxford Charles formed a prayer group among his fellow students in 1727 which his elder brother, John joined in 1729 soon becoming its leader and moulding it to his own notions. They focused on Bible study, methodical study of scripture and living a holy life. Other students mocked them, saying they were the “Holy Club”, “Sacramentarians”, and “the Methodists”, being methodical and exceptionally detailed in their Bible study, opinions and disciplined lifestyle. George Whitefield also joined this group. After graduating with a Masters’ in classical languages and literature, Charles followed his father and brother into the church in 1735.
Charles Wesley experienced a conversion on 21 May 1738 – John Wesley had a similar experience in Aldersgate Street just three days later. A City of London blue plaque at 13, Little Britain, near the church of St Botolph’s-without-Alders, off St. Martin’s Le Grand, marks the site of the former house of John Bray, reputed to be the scene of Wesley’s evangelical conversion on 21 May 1738. It reads, “Adjoining this site stood the house of John Bray. Scene of Charles Wesley’s evangelical conversion May 21st 1738”.
Wesley felt renewed strength to spread the Gospel to ordinary people and it was around then that he began to write the poetic hymns for which he would become known. It wasn’t until 1739 that the brothers took to field preaching, under the influence of George Whitefield, whose open-air preaching was already reaching great numbers of Bristol colliers.
After ceasing field preaching and frequent travel due to illness, Wesley settled and worked in the area around St Marylebone Parish Church. On his deathbed he sent for the church’s rector John Harley and told him “Sir, whatever the world may say of me, I have lived, and I die, a member of the Church of England. I pray you to bury me in your churchyard.” On his death, his body was carried to the church by six clergymen of the Church of England, and a memorial stone to him stands in the gardens in Marylebone High Street, close to his burial spot. One of his sons, Samuel, became organist of the church.
Wesley’s conversion had a clear impact on his doctrine, especially the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The change in doctrine can be seen in his sermons after 1738, but is most notable in his hymns written after 1738.
From Charles’ published work “Hymns and Prayers to the Trinity” and in Hymn number 62 he writes “The Holy Ghost in part we know, For with us He resides, Our whole of good to Him we owe, Whom by His grace he guides, He doth our virtuous thoughts inspire, The evil he averts, And every seed of good desire, He planted in our hearts.”
Charles communicates several doctrines; the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, the depravity of mankind, and humanity’s personal accountability to God. This was a vital contribution not only to Methodism, but to modern theology as a whole.
Charles Wesley sets forth in song the whole range of the evangelical faith. It is a remarkable feat.
Methodists have learned their doctrines from their hymns … If Methodism has maintained its evangelical orthodoxy ow for two centuries, the fact is due not so much to John Wesley’s sermons as to the influence of Charles’ hymns.
The reason is that the hymns presented Scriptures or the doctrine, not as a truth of a dogma to be accepted, but as a clowing personal experience to be enjoyed.
…John Bishop, Methodist Worship
In the course of his career, Charles Wesley published the words of over six thousand hymns, many of which are still popular. These include:
- “Arise my soul arise” (Lyrics)
- “And Can It Be That I Should Gain?” (Lyrics)
- “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” (Lyrics)
- “Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies” (Lyrics)
- “Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown” (Lyrics)
- “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” (Lyrics)
- “Depth of Mercy, Can it Be” (Lyrics)
- “Father, I Stretch My Hands to Thee” (Lyrics)
- “Hail the Day that Sees Him Rise” (Lyrics)
- “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” (Lyrics)
- “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” (Lyrics)
- “Jesus, The Name High Over All” (Lyrics)
- “Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending” (Lyrics)
- “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” (Lyrics)
- “O for a Heart to Praise My God” (Lyrics)
- “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” (Lyrics)
- “Rejoice, the Lord is King” (Lyrics)
- “Soldiers of Christ, Arise” (Lyrics)
- “Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose” (Lyrics)
- “Ye Servants of God” (Lyrics)
The lyrics to many more of Charles Wesley’s hymns can be found on Wikisource and “Hymns and Sacred Poems.”
Some 150 of his hymns are in the Methodist hymn book Hymns and Psalms, including “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing, and “The Church Hymn Book“ (In New York and Chicago, USA, 1872) where “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” is published. Many of his hymns are translated into other languages, and form the foundation for Methodist hymnals, as the Swedish Metodist-Episkopal-Kyrkans Psalmbok printed in Stockholm in 1892.