The Other Wesley


November 01, 2015

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.

When we speak of “Wesley in the World Today” we mean John Wesley, whose teachings and practices shape all those who call themselves “Wesleyan” or “Methodist.” But there is another Wesley who had an enormous impact on Methodism and beyond, John’s younger brother Charles.

Like John, when Charles arrived at Oxford University he became lax in his Christian devotion. But also like John, he read spiritual writers that convinced him to become “serious” about religion, and this put him on a life-long journey toward holiness centered in love.

It was Charles who first assembled the group of fellow students to study, pray, and serve together that would be derisively called the “Holy Club.” When John returned to Oxford they invited him to take charge. John would later call this the “first rise of Methodism.

Charles reluctantly went with John as a missionary to the Georgia colony in 1734. Continually ill and treated unjustly, Charles happily returned to London over a year before a dejected John would join him there. Both brothers had tried to serve faithfully with all their effort, but knew something was still missing in their lives. A group of Christians, called the Moravian Brethren, who had impressed the Wesleys by their peace and joy in the midst of danger, told them they lacked faith, a trusting in Jesus Christ for their salvation.

Then occurred the most well-known event in John Wesley’s life when he attended a prayer meeting on Aldersgate Street at which his heart was “strangely warmed,” found he did trust in Christ for salvation, and was assured he was a child of God. What is not as well known is that a similar event had occurred to Charles three days earlier. Charles was ill and in bed at a friend’s house when the sister of the friend, led by God in a dream, came into the room and said “Believe, and you shall be healed.” Charles found he did trust in Christ, receiving an assurance that he was a child of God.

Charles also felt called to write a hymn on the occasion, probably “Where Shall My Wondering Soul Begin.” This was the first of over 6,500 hymns Charles would write.

Though both initially reluctant, Charles followed his brother in the controversial practice of preaching out of doors and in buildings not consecrated for that purpose by a bishop. Together the brothers brought the Methodist movement into being. They would later have differences but when Charles died, John’s grief and affection for his brother was evident.

Charles’ legacy is his hymns. Many are familiar: “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” “Spirit of Faith Come Down,” “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” “And are We Yet Alive.” “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” Others should be better known: “O Love Divine, What Hast Thou Done ?,” “O For a Heart to Praise My God,” and what many consider his best hymn, “O Come Thou Traveler Unknown.” Multitudes of Christians who have never read John Wesley have regularly sung the words of brother Charles.