John and Charles Wesley are commonly considered the primary founders and promoters of Methodism in the eighteenth century Church of England. Both brothers were not only powerful evangelists but also skilled hymnwriters. Together they produced several hymnbooks.

Charles was especially gifted as a poet and hymnist, composing nearly 9,000 poems and over 6,000 hymns. His hymns are characterized by not only poetic beauty but also theological brawn. They are packed with biblical allusions and doctrinal truths. Charles’ best-known Christmas hymns are “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”

Charles was happy to share his songs freely with the public. But he did not appreciate people amending them. In one of his hymnals he wrote:

“I beg leave to mention a thought which has been long upon my mind, and which I should long ago have inserted in the public papers, had I not been unwilling to stir up a nest of hornets. Many gentlemen have done my brother and me (though without naming us) the honor to reprint many of our hymns. Now they are perfectly welcome to do so, provided they print them just as they are. But I desire they would not attempt to mend them, for they are really not able. None of them is able to mend either the sense or the verse. Therefore, I must beg of them these two favors: either let them stand just as they are, to take things for better or worse, or to add the true reading in the margin, or at the bottom of the page, that we may no longer be accountable either for the nonsense or for the doggerel of other men.”

But Charles’ friend, the eminent evangelist George Whitefield, appears to have done the Christian Church a favor by ignoring Charles’ request and polishing up one of his hymns. At age thirty-two Charles wrote a Christmas hymn that began:

Hark, how all the welkin rings,

“Glory to the King of kings;

Peace on earth, and mercy mild,

God and sinners reconciled!”

Joyful, all ye nations, rise,

Join the triumph of the skies;

Universal nature say,

“Christ the Lord is born today!”

The word “welkin” was an old English term for “the vault of heaven.” When Whitefield published this song in his 1753 hymnal, he changed the words to the now-beloved “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”

For those who are interested in tracing out the numerous Scriptural references and truths included in “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”: Verse 1 is based on Luke 2:8-14; Verse 2 reflects Matthew 1:19-23 and John 1:1, 14, 18; Verse 3 refers to Isaiah 9:6, Malachi 4:2 and John 1:4, 9, 12-13. I’d encourage you to take some time this Christmas season to read through the verses of this hymn and reflect on the related Scriptures.

May all of us come to know and appreciate much more fully both who Christ Jesus is and the many spiritual blessings He has brought to us. As a result, may our hearts overflow with exalted worship of Christ, as Charles Wesley’s heart did when he wrote this classic Christmas hymn.

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Some of the information for this Perspective was gleaned from Robert Morgan’s uplifting book Then Sings My Soul, 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories (Thomas Nelson, 2003). An outstanding biography on Charles Wesley is Arnold Dallimore’s A Heart Set Free, The Life of Charles Wesley (Crossway Books, 1988).

If you have enjoyed and benefited from this blog post, I would sincerely appreciate your sharing it with your friends and acquaintances who could likewise profit from it.

Copyright 2020 by Vance E. Christie

Susanna Wesley

Susanna Wesley

Not a few professing Christians sometimes have doubts about their salvation. If you or someone you know fits in that category, perhaps you’ll be helped by considering the following narrative of how Susanna Wesley and her famous sons, John and Charles, came to gain an assurance of their personal salvation.

Susanna grew up in an era when it was quite common for even devoted Christians in various denominations not to have an absolute assurance of their personal salvation. That was true of both Nonconformists (among whom she was raised) and of Anglicans (with whom she fellowshipped and served as an adult). Both Anglicans and Dissenters taught salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. But there was also such a pronounced emphasis on living a life of good works that not a few professing believers mistakenly supposed their salvation was based at least in part on their own good deeds. That mistaken belief couldn’t help but leave many of them wondering if they were good enough to make it to heaven.

John and Charles Wesley were ordained ministers in the Church of England. In 1735 they accompanied Colonel James Oglethorpe, founding Governor of Georgia Colony, to America. John served as a chaplain and a missionary to the Indians while Charles was Oglethorpe’s personal secretary. While in America the Wesleys had considerable contact with a group of German Moravian Christians who emphasized (1) salvation through faith in Christ alone and (2) having an assurance of one’s salvation through the inner witness of God’s Spirit.

Young John Wesley

Young John Wesley

After returning to England in 1738, both John and Charles had conversion experiences in which they firmly laid hold of the doctrine of justification by faith for themselves, and thereby gained a settled assurance that they were truly saved. They immediately set about zealously proclaiming those doctrines. Along with fellow Anglican George Whitefield, another fervent evangelist who emphasized justification through faith in Christ alone, they became the primary human instruments used of God to bring about the Evangelical revival that swept across England at that time. Through their earnest preaching, hundreds or even thousands of people came under deep conviction and were converted.

A significant spiritual event took place in Susanna’s life in January, 1740, at a communion service led by her son-in-law Westley Hall. She afterward wrote of the incident: “While my son Hall was pronouncing these words in delivering the cup to me, ‘The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee,’ these words struck through my heart, and I knew that God for Christ’s sake had forgiven me all my sins.”

Charles Wesley

Charles Wesley

When Charles heard of this he wrote his mother a rather blunt letter in which he apparently declared that she had all along been trusting in her own good works to save her and had not been truly converted until that moment of realization during the recent communion service. But in answering his letter she referred back to a time during her teenage years when God had brought her through a period of serious doubting and had kept her Christian faith intact:

“I do not, I will not despair. For ever since my sad defection, when I was almost without hope, when I had forgotten God, yet I then found He had not forgotten me. Even then He did by His Spirit apply the merits of the great atonement to my soul, by telling me that Christ died for me. Shall the God of truth, the Almighty Savior, tell me that I am interested in [have a share in] His blood and righteousness, and shall I not believe Him? God forbid! I do, I will believe. And though I am the greatest of sinners, that does not discourage me. For all my transgressions are the sins of a finite person, but the merits of our Lord’s sufferings and righteousness are infinite!”

Susanna Wesley salvation quote

Susanna’s father, Samuel Annesley, was a prominent Nonconformist minister in London during her childhood and younger adult years. When she related to her son John the assurance that had recently come to her heart at the communion service, he queried her about Annesley:

“I asked whether her father had not the same faith, and whether she had not heard him preach it to others. She answered, he had it himself, and declared a little before his death that for more than forty years he had no darkness, no fear, no doubt at all of his being accepted in the Beloved [Christ]. But that, nevertheless, she did not remember to have heard him preach, no not once, explicitly upon it [such assurance of salvation]. Whence she supposed he also looked upon it as the peculiar blessing of a few, not as promised to all the people of God.”

Susanna’s own assurance was in evidence at the time of her death on July 23, 1742. According to John, who was at her bedside when she passed into eternity, at that time she expressed ‘no doubt or fear’. Her sole desire was ‘to depart and to be with Christ’ (Philippians 1:23). Such is the settled assurance of the Christian who has come to trust in Christ alone (rather than partly in one’s own good works) for salvation.

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You will find much more about Susanna Wesley’s interesting life and beneficial spiritual perspectives on a variety of issues in my book Women of Faith and Courage (Christian Focus, 2011). Two commendable full-length biographies on her life are: Susanna Wesley by Arnold Dallimore (Baker, 1993) and Susanna Wesley by Kathy McReynolds (Bethany, 1998).

Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie