Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Charles Wesley

Charles Wesley, born today in 1707, has been called the "sweet singer of Methodism," and the "bard of Wesleyanism" by various writers.  His more than 6500 hymns could be said to have formed the foundation of the Methodist Church for many of its early members.  Charles and his brother John believed in the power of congregational singing to reinforce their teaching and preaching to their followers. 

In those days, the Methodist meetings were held on Friday nights, assuming that most people went to their local Church of England parish on Sunday mornings.  Charles himself always insisted that he remained a faithful member of the Anglican clergy throughout his life, though the Church did not necessarily agree.  Anglican bishops and many of the clergy still maintained at this time that psalm paraphrases were the only acceptable form of congregational singing.  Hymns were sung by the Nonconformist churches, like the Congregationalists, the Baptists, and the Methodists, which made them suspect to the Anglicans, who feared that incorrect doctrine might be transmitted.

Today's hymn by Charles Wesley remains one of his most well-known, though originally his brother thought it overly sentimental.  There are several stories as to its origin, one being that it was written after an angry mob who objected to the Mothodists chased Charles away from a prayer meeting, leading him to compose this hymn on the theme of Jesus' protecting love.

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, ah! 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.

Plenteous grace with thee is found,
Grace to free from all my sin;
Let the healing streams abound;
Make and keep me whole within.
Thou of life the fountain art,
Freely let me take of thee;
Spring thou up within my heart;
Rise to all eternity.

Charles Wesley, 1740; alt.
Joseph Parry, 1875

Like many of Wesley's hymns, this one has traveled far beyond its Methodist roots. The website hymnary.org finds this hymn in 2,524 hymnals (which only includes hymnals published in North America, so the total number must be much larger).  In 1899, hymnologist Louis Benson listed it at #3 in The Best Church Hymns, finding it in 104 of the 107 hymnals he researched.  I'm sure it still appears on the favorite list of many people today.

Four Years Ago: Phoebe Worrall Palmer

Two Years Ago: Charles Wesley

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