Born on December 18, 1707, Charles Wesley became famous for the hymns he wrote (think “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”) and the movement he helped found with his older brother which grew to become The United Methodist Church.
Historians at the United Methodist General Commission on Archives and History tell us more about the man best remembered as the poet laureate and great writer of Methodism. “Charles’ influence on John was every bit as great as John’s influence on Charles. In these two brothers, here’s a dynamic duo that gives us the heart and soul of Methodism,” reflects the Rev. Alfred Day III.
He is Methodism’s most famous musician, and his words have inspired people of faith for nearly 300 years. He literally wrote 6,000 hymns! Charles Wesley is the poet laureate and great writer of Methodism. So many of Charles’ hymns talk about the liberation of the human soul. In the hymn we love to sing, ‘Oh, for a thousand tongues,’ he breaks the power of canceled sin; he sets the prisoner free. He not only helps us sing our theology, our beliefs, but he helps us to understand what it is we really have to sing about and belt out with joy and inspiration.
Our theology is something that we’ve sung. And we’ve sung it in a way to help us understand it and to help us feel and experience it at the same time. So it’s one thing for me to say, for example, incarnational theology. It’s another thing for me to say ‘Hark, the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn king.’
Early Methodists took their hymnals home during the week and hymns became daily devotions. They’d use it as a little mini-dictionary, and if someone wanted to know about how to pray to God, there was a hymn for that. Someone wanted to know, ‘what does it mean that Jesus is divine?’ There was a hymn for that.
John Wesley gets most of the credit for founding the Methodist Movement, but it was Charles’ desire for a deepened religious experience that led them to form a Holy Club while Charles was a student at Oxford. And Charles is credited with having a conversion experience before his brother. We all know John’s story of the heart strangely warmed, Aldersgate Day, May 24th. But guess what? Charles’ heartwarming experience was May 21st.
Charles Wesley’s faith was most clearly communicated through the thousands of songs he composed. His words are known world-wide and United Methodists can take pride in their connection to this poet and preacher.
We talk about the universal church, a great gathering at the Lord’s table, and what is it that Methodists bring to the table? For Methodists that’s the song at Easter time, not just Methodists, but Christians around the world sing, ‘Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.’ And Christmastime, churches around the world sing ‘Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.’ Even Charlie Brown sings it. Right? That’s our gift.
And that’s our Methodist Moment this week.