” She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:1 ESV)
Sunday was Charles Wesley’s birthday. I’ve always liked Charles Wesley, for more than just his prolific hymn writing. And make no mistake he was prolific. what amazes me about Wesley is not just how many hymns he wrote, but how many theologically rich, musically sound they are. it’s one thing to write a lot of hymns. It’s quite another to write so many good ones.
While I admire, respect, and am indebted to Charles’ older brother John for so many things, I don’t know if he’d be the brother you’d want to spend time with. Oh, I’d want to hear him preach and ask him about his faith and how he organized his small groups. But I never got the sense that John was a guy you’d want to hang out with.
Charles, on the other hand, seems like the Wesley most likely to be invited to the neighborhood Christmas party. Charles seemed to take great pleasure in life and enjoyed being with people. His demeanor seems softer, gentler than John’s. Surely Charles long marriage and happy children give testimony to the type of prison he was. As well as his decision to become more settled and spend time with his family rather than do as much circuit riding as John did. While this caused a bit of a disagreement with John, I have to think Charles had his priorities straight.
Last year I toured Charles Wesley home in Bristol on a very rainy cold summer day. I thought about what it must have been like in that home. The children playing while Charles was either feverishly writing up stairs or playing a new hymn for the first time. Did people pause by the house as he played, only half listening to “And Can It Be” or “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”?
It doesn’t mean that Charles was any less committed to the ministry or to holiness than John was. After all, let’s not forget Charles has his heart warming experience happened three days before John’s did. And he was willing to lay aside personal preferences to share the gospel. Under John’s direction he came up with more singable tunes for the coal miners and the “unchurched” of the way so that they could worship. Wesley famously adapted popular tunes and rhythms, often hear in the pubs, in order to do this. One of those songs became that anthem of Methodism “O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing”. Charles at first thought the tune too common and a bit vile to be sung in religious circles. Yet he wrote it and used it to great effect.
That’s not to say he was perfect by any means. His interference in the love life of his brother caused a tremendous rift between them for many years. It seems that while he wasn’t willing to risk his personal happiness for the sake of the movement, h was wilignto risk John’s. I don’t believe Charles was being hypocritical. I think he saw Joh as being more important, or at least a greater driving force behind Methodism, and he feared what might happen if John settled down.
So although I think Charles might have been more fun to hang out with, it doesn’t mean he was better than John. He was simply different than his brother. The Wesleys embody the idea that God uses the entire Body of Christ without different gifts, and personalities to further the Kingdom of God. Perhaps rather than spending so much time trying to make everyone the same, we and the world would be better suited if we allowed
In this season of giving we celebrate the greatest gift of all, the birth of Jesus. The one who’s birth, Wesley reminds us, came to give us a “Second Birth” “Born than men no more may die” New life now, and an eternal life as well. It’s for this reason we give gifts at Christmas. Oh, I know our greed can put gift giving all out of proportion. But isn’t giving a gift and receiving them still a wonderful way to celebrate the greatest gift of all?
So what might happen if we began to see each other as a gift form God, just as we are? Different to be sure. Our lives put us in different places and give us different priorities. God gives us different gifts and passions, just as he did John and Charles Wesley. But what if we simply learned to be thankful for the various gifts and temperaments we find in the Body of Christ?
We’d certainly be easier to get along with. What might a church look like that spent less time in making us fit a mold and more time helping us develop our passions and gifts? We’d certainly be more loving and more attractive to the world. But I think we’d be more effective as well. The early Methodist movement needed John Wesley. But it also needed Charles Wesley as well. When they saw each other as s gift they were incredibly effective. Would it be any less today?
Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><