Friday, February 1, 2008

don't forget about charles

If you hang around in United Methodist circles for a while, eventually you’ll hear about John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement—which led to what we call the United Methodist Church. You’ll also hear about another Wesley, John’s brother Charles, who probably doesn’t get enough credit for his contributions to the Methodist movement. Charles was a great writer of hymns, many of which became the core of the hymnbooks used by the early Methodists.

Charles’ hymns were deeply theological; he wasn’t much for writing praise choruses! For a good part of the history of the Methodist Church, hymns like those that Charles wrote became the primary way that Methodists learned about the great truths of the faith. Methodists were known as people who “sang their theology”.

Many of Charles’ hymns are well-loved even today: “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing”, “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today”, and “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” are a few examples.

Our United Methodist Hymnal contains about 50 hymns that were written by Charles Wesley, plus several poems and responses. Unfortunately, Charles wrote the words to hymns, not the music. And many of Charles hymns have been saddled with music that no longer seems to appeal to people today. An example is “And Can It Be that I Should Gain” (# 363). Although the tune is far from terrible, it’s not easy for everyone to sing, and so we sing it rarely.

But if you read the lyrics to this hymn, you find an amazing depth of Christian truth. Ok, you do have to work a bit to dig through the wording, but the reward is there!

For Lent this year, I suggest that you include in your disciplines a reading of Charles Wesley’s hymns. I’ll be posting one of his hymns for each day of Lent here on my blog.

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