charles wesley’s birthday

My standard disclaimer: I’m not a Methodist, but I research and write about eighteenth-century Methodism.

My Aunt Donna forwarded me the following info from the Thursday, December 18 edition of an email newsletter sent out by The Writer’s Almanac at Minnesota Public Radio.

It’s the birthday of hymn writer Charles Wesley, born in Epworth, England (1708). He went to Oxford University, where he formed a small religious study group that included his brother John and a few other friends. They were nicknamed “the holy club” and later “the Methodists” because of their methodical worship and strict discipline. The group eventually broke up, but a few years later John and Charles Wesley founded the first official Methodist Society, laying the foundations for modern-day Methodism.

After graduating from Oxford, Charles grew frustrated with Christianity and began to question his beliefs. He went on a mission to the new American colony of Georgia in 1735. He worked as a secretary of the governor, but he found it hard to adapt the rough lifestyle in America. He wrote, “Life is bitterness to me.” When he returned to London, he experienced a conversion that confirmed his religious faith. On May 21, 1738, he wrote, “I now found myself at peace with God …. I went to bed still sensible of my own weakness … yet confident of Christ’s protection.” The next day, he wrote his first hymn, which begins:

Where shall my wondering soul begin?
How shall I all to heaven aspire?
A slave redeemed from death and sin,
A brand plucked from eternal fire!

Wesley went on to write over 6,500 hymns, including “Hark! the herald angels sing,” and “Oh for a thousand tongues to sing.” About a sixth of the 750 hymns in the official hymnal of the Methodist Episcopal Church were written by Wesley.

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