Charles Wesley was an English preacher, poet, and hymn-writer who is best remembered for helping his brother, John Wesley, start the Methodist movement. He was born the eighteenth child to Samuel and Susannah Wesley in Epworth U.K. on December 8, 1707 and was raised in their Anglican home. Charles attended Oxford University where he started a prayer group in 1727 for fellow students to encourage one another in studying the Bible and living a holy life. This prayer group became known as "The Holy Club," and his older brother John Wesley as well as future preacher George Whitefield also joined. Eventually, due to their methodical and detailed approach to studying the Bible and living accordingly, their movement became known as Methodism. Charles graduated from Oxford in 1732 and was ordained in the Anglican Church in 1735, the same year his father died.
After ordination, Charles and John Wesley traveled to Georgia in the American Colonies, but returned home within a year after facing difficulties as chaplains overseas. In 1738, Charles had a religious experience with the power of the Holy Spirit giving him a new passion to spread the gospel. His brother John had a similar experience three days later. This focus on evangelical preaching made them both unwelcome in Anglican churches, so Charles and John began preaching in open fields throughout Britain and Ireland leading to an evangelical Methodist revival. The first official Methodist Society met in September 1742 in Newcastle and was unfortunately met with mob violence. However, Methodism continued to grow and even spread to the American colonies through the preaching of former Holy Club member George Whitefield.
Due to his giftedness with words and music, Charles composed hymns to use during their Methodist revivals, eventually writing up to ten thousand songs. His hymns contained strong doctrinal content about the universality of God's love, humans' personal accountability to God, and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. He used both scriptural and literary allusions and a variety of metrical and stanza forms. Charles Wesley's hymns influenced not only Methodism, but modern theology and Christian worship as a whole. Some of his most recognized hymns include: "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing," "And Can it Be," "Christ the Lord is Risen Today," "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus," and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." Charles also paraphrased some Psalms and wrote poems including political and satirical verse.
Despite helping to found the Methodist movement, Charles Wesley actually never approved of separating from the Anglican Church. He longed to see the Church of England preach about personal salvation and the power of the indwelling Spirit of God. Upon his deathbed in March 1788, he said, "I have lived, and I die, a member of the Church of England." His body is buried in the Anglican churchyard of St. Marylebone Parish near his home in London. Many of Charles Wesley's hymns, and the theology they proclaim, are still sung in churches all over the world today over two hundred years after his passing.
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