Charles Wesley’s hymns have fallen out of fashion. You will hear his most famous ones at Easter (Christ the Lord is Risen Today) and at Christmas (Hark the Herald Angels Sing). Even I, who grew up Methodist, was only familiar with half a dozen others until a few years ago. While in seminary I was given a biography of the Wesley brothers and in the back were the words to over 100 of Charles’ hymns. I read them devotionally – one a day – for several years and was greatly enriched. Today in honor of his birthday I’m quoting a few favorite lines and stanzas. (Almost three hundred of his hymns can be heard at cyber hymnal.)
From Hymn 22
Talk with us Lord, thyself reveal,
While here o’er earth we rove;
Speak to our hearts, and let us feel
The kindling of thy love.
With thee conversing we forget
All time and toil, and care:
Labor is rest, and pain is sweet
If thou, my God, art here.
Hymn 75 starts by highlighting our “God of unexampled grace”. Later he writes “Thrice happy am I” because of the three blessings of salvation: pardon, grace and heaven. Hymn 108 reminds us that the “Sun of righteousness” appeared “to gild our gloomy hemisphere”.
Poetry is compact language and as a Christian and theology teacher I love it when a lot of meaning is packed into a minimal amount of words. Next to John Donne, Charles Wesley is my favorite Christian poet.
For Christmas it seems appropriate to conclude with the first stanza of Hymn 107:
Let earth and heaven combine,
Angels and men agree,
To praise in songs divine
The incarnate Deity,
Our God contracted to a span,
Incomprehensibly made man.