Wesley, Charles

Wesley, Charles
( 1707-17 88 )
   hymn writer and cofounder of Methodism
   Charles Wesley was born on December 18, 1707, the 18th child of Samuel and Susannah Wesley. In 1726, he entered Christ Church, Oxford. While there, he organized a group of religiously serious students called the Holy Club, a distinctive name in the secularized atmosphere at Oxford. His brother John Wesley was a subsequent leader of the group; in 1732, future evangelist George Whitefield joined the group as well. The three became close friends.
   After graduating from Oxford, in 1735 Charles went to the newly established American colony of Georgia as secretary of Governor James Oglethorpe; John also spent time there, though both returned soon after. While there, they met with a group of Moravians, who introduced them to the idea of a personal faith in Christ. After some struggle with his faith, on May 21, 1738, Charles found peace with God, three days prior to his brother's more famous "heart-warming" experience at the Aldersgate religious society.
   In response to his own experience, Charles wrote the first of his more than 6,000 hymns, describing himself as "A slave redeemed from death and sin, A brand plucked from eternal fire!" He also helped his brother preach and set up the religious societies that became the core of the Methodist movement. An initial collection of his hymns was published in 1739.
   Charles married and settled in Wales in 1749, but continued to preach until 1756. In 1771, he moved to London to provide oversight to the Methodists, especially during his brother's extended travels.
   Many of Charles Wesley's hymns have been forgotten, but a few became world famous, such as "O, For a Thousand Tongues to Sing," "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," "Love Divine, All Love's
   Excelling," and "Christ the Lord Has Risen Today." His hymns have been featured in the various editions of Methodist hymnals to the present; they became identified with Methodism, and then with Protestantism in general as it spread around the world.
   Charles Wesley died in London on March 29, 1788.
   Further reading:
   ■ S. T. Kimbrough Jr., ed., Charles Wesley: Poet and Theologian (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon/Kingswood, 1992)
   ■ John R. Tyson, Charles Wesley: A Reader (New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989, 2001)
   ■ Carlton R. Young, Music of the Heart: John and Charles Wesley on Music and Musicians (London: Stainer & Bell, 1995).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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