Charles Wesley

Charles Wesley is best known for his prolific hymn writing, his poetry and for being one of the founding fathers of the Methodist denomination of Christianity. He wrote more than six thousand hymns, and a handful remain in modern day worship.

Wesley was born in 1707, in England. His father, a priest in the Church of England, had firm views on how people should behave and serve God. His mother had the greatest impact on him. She instilled self-control and routine in study and in daily prayer and devotions which characterized him later in life.

In 1720, John (Charles’s brother) went to Oxford, and Charles followed him in 1726. John was ordained in 1725. Charles and several other students applied themselves diligently to study and religious duties. John became the leader of these earnest, devout young men, forming what became known as the Holy Club.

The group met regularly for worship and carried out charitable work. Their methodical ways led to fellow students nicknaming them “Methodists.” In that period Charles befriended George Whitefield, who later became a great evangelist and played a pivotal role in getting John Wesley to preach in the open air, thus launching the Methodist movement.

In 1735, Charles was ordained as a priest and travelled with John, who felt called to be a missionary in the new colony of Georgia. In Savannah, Charles was not prepared for the resistance to his message. Exhausted, disheartened and depressed, he returned to England within a year, and a similarly dispirited John returned a few months after.

Charles and his brother underwent a period of spiritual depression, but were helped by conversations with Moravians in London. Each went through an experience of renewal. Charles preaching style became transformed. He 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. In 1739 the brothers took to field preaching. The Methodist style was to take the word of God to people, wherever they were, rather than try to get them into a church to hear it.

Charles was the one who enabled the people to learn the Methodist theology as they sang his hymns. The travelling allowed Charles time for reflection and he composed the words of many of the Methodist hymns sung today.

Charles who was never in the best health, wanted to spend more time with his family, and to travel less. Charles gave up travelling in 1756, and was able to dedicate more time to hymn writing, while still preaching and maintaining a pastoral ministry.

Charles’ loyalty to the Church of England meant he was extremely unhappy when John used his authority to make decisions that moved Methodism away from the Church. Charles retained his brotherly love for John until the end of his life, but these events cast a deep shadow over their relationship.

Source: Charles Wesley
BBC © 2014

Back to top