Columnists > Voices

Oh, for a thousand tongues

Celebrating the 18th born child of Mrs. Susanna Wesley

Issue: "Our pork," Dec. 8, 2007

If you wish to abide in Jesus, it is important to pray constantly and to be in His Word. When the flesh makes it hard to pray and read, I find that it is never hard to sing a hymn. Walking the dog and weary of my prayer list, I suddenly remember a melody and climb up on my Father's lap, as it were, and serenade Him. Where is the man so brutish that he does not like to sing?

And this is not cheating; it is the gift of God to the prayer challenged ("addressing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs," Ephesians 5:19). And so is Charles Wesley a gift, whose songs in the night (and sometimes his spiritual night) have bequeathed to us the best of both prayer and the meat of His Word.

December 18th is the 300th anniversary of that "other" Wesley, John's younger brother, 18th born child of Samuel and Susanna-and as good a pro-life argument as you will adduce. In North Lincolnshire, England, this year a gala flower festival held "Wesley Day" on May 24, to their credit, finding the "born again" date of the brothers a marker more important than the "born of woman" statistic interesting to bibliographers.

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Though known as the co-founder with John of Methodism, it is from "methods" that Charles was delivered that spring of 1738, from a spiritual halfway house of sincere but legalistic religion without much heart. The Moravians provided the heart. Peter Bohler, of that German pietistic sect, like a Priscilla and Aquilla to Apollos' inchoate faith, introduced Charles to the grace note of joy and true evangelicalism. And oh how those Moravians could sing!

An entry in Charles' diary penned at the home of a Moravian brother: "I now found myself at peace with God and rejoiced in hope of loving Christ. . . . I saw that by faith I stood, by the continual support of faith. . . . I went to bed still sensible of my own weakness . . . yet confident of Christ's protection."

It was the next day that Charles began to write the first of a torrent of hymns, his occluded heart at long last uncorked by gospel grace, releasing rivers of the Holy Spirit. It was three days later that brother John was enraptured through the selfsame salvation door at a meeting of Moravians where Martin Luther's Epistle to the Romans was read. He reported feeling "strangely warmed."

The circuit rider (John) and the hymn writer (Charles), thus anointed, and joined in the joyful obsession by George Whitefield (whose own quickening came in 1735), proceeded to preach wherever they could find an ear to hear-in open fields and prisons and to the soot-streaked faces of coal miners moved to tears. Under the expanse of sky they would meet their throngs when Anglican church doors were slammed on them. "Therefore let us go to Him outside the camp and bear the reproach He endured" (Hebrews 13:13).

We are wont to erect monuments to the great faith heroes of old, each claiming them for our own, now that they are dead and nonthreatening-though I wonder if I, back in the 18th century, would have been willing to "bear the reproach" of a madman for Christ, wet with the dew of outdoor preaching. ("Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers"-to quote a hymn not written by Charles Wesley.)

As my own personal acknowledgment of the tercentennial, I decided to read through Wesley's hymns. Not all 6,500 of them but the ones that have risen to the top like farm cream. I was looking for the soul of the man, a more direct pipeline than biographers could give. I discerned that a Christian three centuries and an ocean apart was just like me and sang to Jesus because he needed to:

"Jesus! The name that charms our fears.
That bids our sorrows cease;
'Tis music in the sinner's ears,
'Tis life, and health, and peace.

"He breaks the power of canceled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean;
His blood availed for me."

Hymns are good because when I'm singing, I'm not sinning. The fact is that without them, even walking the dog in the morning can be a hazardous occupation.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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