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24 May - Charles & John Wesley - Hymn writers

One of the things I really love about the Anglican faith, is that we sing hymns, songs, or whatever you call them, during the services. In that way I get to feel more connected to the service, because I not only passively attending as in listening, but I am also actively doing a part of the service as in singing.
Singing as such brings my body and thus mine emotions more to my consciousness. I begin to feel my faith, as a lived reality, not only as a decision taken. This also depends on the text of the hymn, and I learned that I much like the hymns that teach our doctrine for example about the Holy Trinity (for example: hymn number 699 Thou whose almighty word).

And I also started to wonder: who are these people who wrote the hymns? The book that we use most at St Mary’s is the Mission Praise book (1990) that lies standard in our pews.
I fully realise that there are many more hymns in use in the Church of England; but I am not familiar with them.
I think that the best known hymnwriter is Charles Wesley, so in him I honour all those who have written hymns. Wesley is not modern, and his background, as one founding fathers of the Methodist denomination, is also not the most usual one for hymn writers, who are most often priest in the Church of England and also often women. Hymn writing clearly was allowed for women, even at a time when it was not all usual that women did write books; for example: (Charlotte Elliott 396 Just as I am) or (Frances Ridley Havergal  624 Take my life and let it be)

Sadly, there are no composers named, at least not in our hymns book. I think that the composers are just as essential for our enjoyment of the hymns as the writers themselves (of course the choir sings from books with the music in them and the composers are then named, and our organist knows all the composers!)

Charles Wesley is commemorated as saint on 24 May, together with his older brother John Wesley.
Both were ordained as priest in the Church of England, both were theologians, and John later in his life together with Charles founded the Methodist denomination, originally  an offshoot of the Church of England.
Both experienced “a new conversion” a few days after one another, and that was when Charles started writing as poet and composer of his hymns. He believed that through singing he could teach more and better about the Gospel and that people who sang the hymns, would remember the message better as well.
As said, both brothers were theologians but of Charles, the historian Gary Martin Best notes:
“It was Charles who provided the warmth of character which kept many loyal to his more autocratic and severe brother. It was Charles and not John who was often judged the most effective preacher in Methodism whenever Whitefield was absent in America…. He constantly supported his brother, even when they disagreed, and by becoming the hymn writer of the movement, he embodied its message far more effectively in his verse than John was ever able to achieve through his prose.” https://legacy.lib.utexas.edu/taro/smu/00223/smu-00223.html

Charles Wesley put much of his doctrinal beliefs in his hymns, one of the reasons I like them. Conversely, one of the modern hymn writers, Graham Kendrick, I dislike because I find so little of our doctrine in his songs. 
Mind: this is very much a very personal impression, and not any real evaluation of what a hymn should be like, or what standards it ‘should’ follow, I am not an expert in any other sense than singing and enjoying the hymns!

I end with the hymn (449) that touched me most deeply the second time I heard it and got to understand/know the text. It touches me again every time we sing it in church:

Love Divine, all love excelling,
Joy of heaven, to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling,
All thy faithful mercies crown:
Jesus, thou art all compassion,
Pure, unbounded love thou art;
Visit us with thy salvation,
Enter every trembling heart.

Breathe, O breathe thy loving Spirit
Into every troubled breast;
Let us all in thee inherit,
Let us find the promised rest;
Take away the love of sinning;
Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its beginning,
Set our hearts at liberty.

Come, Almighty to deliver,
Let us all thy life receive;
Suddenly return, and never,
Never more thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve thee as thy hosts above,
Pray, and praise thee without ceasing,
Glory in thy perfect love.

Finish, then, thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be:
Let us see thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in thee;
Changed from glory into glory
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crown before thee,
Lost in wonder, love and praise.


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