The calendars of some denominations mark today in honor of John and Charles Wesley, eighteenth-century Anglican ministers who were instrumental in spreading the Methodist faith throughout the United Kingdom.
John Wesley is regarded as one of the founders of the Methodist Church, though he himself insisted that he always remained a member of the Church of England. Much more has been written about his theology and his history than can be easily covered here. He worked closely with his younger brother Charles in spreading his beliefs, and both men saw hymns as opportunities for teaching. John translated many hymns from other languages, while Charles wrote original texts (though edited by John). The brothers issued eight collections of hymns between 1739 and 1746 alone.
Charles Wesley is said to have written more than 6,500 hymns, of which a very large number are still known today. That many hymns would have to encompass a large number of subjects; the hymnologist John Julian writes of Charles:
His feelings on every occasion of importance, whether private or public, found their best expression in a hymn. His own conversion, his own marriage, the earthquake panic, the rumours of an invasion from France, the defeat of Prince Charles Edward at Culloden, the Gordon riots, every Festival of the Christian Church, every doctrine of the Christian Faith, striking scenes in Scripture history, striking scenes which came within his own view, the deaths of friends as they passed away, one by one, before him, all furnished occasions for the exercise of his divine gift.
He sometimes wrote hymn texts that would suggest other works familiar to his followers. One of his best-known hymns was intended to evoke memories of the poet John Dryden's ode to England, Fairest isle, all isles excelling. Wesley's text has now far outlived Dryden's, being sung across many denominations around the world and to many different tunes. Though I would not go so far as to call this my favorite hymn, I do think that it is one of the most perfect hymns ever written.
Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven, 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 every trembling heart.
Breathe, O breathe thy loving Spirit,
Into every troubled breast!
Let us all in thee inherit;
Let us find thy promised rest.
Take away our heedless 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;
Suddenly return and never,
Never more thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve thee as thy hosts above,
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 in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.
Charles Wesley, 1747 ; alt.
Tune: HYFRYDOL (188.8.131.52.D.)
Rowland Hugh Prichard, c.1830
The second verse is often left out since John Wesley left it out of his 1780 collection Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists, but I have always liked it.
Charles Wesley's hymns have been sung by many different denominations, but naturally the Methodists are the most avid users; their hymnals generally contain more of Wesley's texts than any other author's.
The stained glass window above depicts Charles at the organ, with this hymn at his feet, but I'm not sure which of the other figures is John. It's possible that John is behind Charles, bestowing his favor on the man in the center, perhaps Thomas Coke, named by John as the first Methodist bishop in the US. However, both John and Charles did travel to America and spent time in Georgia. The window is from the World Methodist Museum in Lake Junaluska, NC.