Charles Wesley

1707-1788. The “sweet singer” of Methodism. Born at Epworth Rectory, Lincolnshire, the eighteenth child of Samuel and Susanna Wesley, Charles was at the age of nine sent to Westminster School. A distant Irish relative, Garret Wesley, wanted to adopt him and settle an inheritance on him. The offer was declined, and Charles went up to Christ Church, Oxford, in 1726. He was instrumental in forming the “Holy Club”* and in 1735 joined his brother John in an abortive mission to Georgia, acting as secretary to the governor, James Oglethorpe.

On his return to England he came under the influence of Peter Boehler,* the Moravian. Lying ill at the house of John Bray, he first read Luther on Galatians. On Whitsunday, 1738-three days before his brother-Charles experienced an evangelical conversion. “I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoiced in hope of loving Christ,” he testified. He composed the birthday hymn, “Where shall my wondering soul begin.”

He now threw himself into the work of evangelism. He began in the houses of friends, visited the prisons, and preached in the churches until the doors were closed against him. Eventually he took to the open air and became one of the most powerful of the field preachers in the revival. In 1749 he married Sarah (Sally) Gwynne, daughter of a Welsh magistrate, and made his home at the New Room in Bristol until he moved to London in 1771 where he supplied the City Road pulpit, among others.

He was the most gifted and most prolific of all English hymnwriters. Some 7,270 such compositions came from his pen-of varying quality, but including many of the very highest order. He gave expression to evangelical faith and experience in language at once biblical and lyrical.

See also Hymns.

T. Jackson, The Life of the Rev. Charles Wesley (2 vols., 1841); T. Jackson (ed.), Journal (2 vols., 1849); G. Osborn (ed.), The Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley (13 vols., 1868-72); J.E. Rattenbury, The Evangelical Doctrines of Charles Wesley's Hymns (1941); F. Baker, Charles Wesley as Revealed in his Letters (1948); F.C. Gill, Charles Wesley (1964).