Charles Wesley

Love's Redeeming Work


'Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me? (Charles Wesley, 1739)

Early Days

Charles Wesley was the eighteenth child born to Samuel and Susannah Wesley. He was born prematurely in December 1707 and appeared to be dead. He lay silent in the midst of the clamor of the Wesley household for weeks. Charles survived infancy and later joined his other siblings for daily classes with his mother, Susannah, who knew Greek, Latin, and French. He learned methodically along with the other Wesley children for six hours a day. Charles then spent 13 years at Westminster School, where the only language allowed in public was Latin. He added nine years at Oxford, where he received his master's degree.

Into Adult Years

While at Oxford University, Charles formed the Holy Club. John Wesley joined the Holy Club after his return to Oxford University in 1729. Holy Club members fasted until 3 PM on Wednesdays and Fridays, received Holy Communion once each week, studied and discussed the Greek New Testament and the Classics each evening in a member’s room, and visited (after 1730) prisoners and the sick. They each systematically brought their personal lives under strict review. The members of the Holy Club were called "methodists." In 1735 Charles and John, ordained clergy of the Church of England, set out as missionaries to the colony of Georgia.

Crisis of Faith

The missionary expedition to Georgia was a failure. Charles experienced a crisis of faith and was in deep need of conversion. After returning to England, Charles taught English to Moravian pastor Peter Böhler. Peter prompted Charles to consider the state of his soul more deeply. May 1738, Charles began reading Martin Luther's volume on Galatians while recovering from a serious illness. He wrote in his diary, "I labored, waited, and prayed to feel 'He who loved me, and gave himself for me.'" He shortly found himself convinced, and journaled, "I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoice in hope of loving Christ." Two days later he began writing a hymn celebrating his conversion.

Musical Theology

Charles could be considered one of the founders of contemporary Christian music. Hymn singing was very important to the evangelical revival in the eighteenth century. Hymns became a means of expressing joy and teaching scriptural truth. Charles Wesley's hymns often paraphrased scripture as well as the Anglican Prayer Book. Charles was said to have averaged 10 poetic lines a day for 50 years and was able to capture the universal human experience in singable lyrics. He wrote 8,989 hymns, 10 times the volume composed by Isaac Watts. Watts is considered the world's greatest hymn writer composing such hymns as "Joy to the World" and "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross."

Charles Wesley created some of the most memorable and lasting hymns of the church: "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," "Can It Be," "O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing," "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling," "Jesus, Lover of My Soul," "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today," "Soldiers Of Christ, Arise," and "Rejoice! The Lord Is King!"

Happy Marriage and Legacy

Charles married Sarah Gwynne in 1749. The age gap between Charles and Sarah Wesley was nearly twenty years but they were both attracted to each other. The Wesleys were not known for their happy marriages. But from all accounts, Charles and Sarah were very happy. They had a number of children but only three survived to be adults. Following Charles' death, Sarah Wesley was cared for by William Wilberforce, the leader of the movement to abolish slave trade.

"Love's redeeming work is done, Fought the fight-the battle won. Death in vain forbids him rise, Christ has opened paradise, Aleluia!" (Charles Wesley, 1739)