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Home > Interpreter Magazine > Archives > 2007 Archives > May-June 2007 > Remembering the Legacy of Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

Portrait of Charles Wesley by Frank Salisbury. reproduced with permission of the World Methodist Museum, Lake Junaluska, N.C.
Remembering the Legacy
of Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

Heritage Sunday is May 20

By Charles Yrigoyen Jr.

In a day of contemporary praise songs and choruses, does an 18th-century poet and hymn-writer have much to contribute to our worship and understanding of the Christian faith? He does if his name is Charles Wesley!

Charles, the cofounder of the Methodist side of United Methodism's heritage with older brother John, wrote the lyrics to as many as 9,000 hymns.

Charles was born in Epworth, England, to Anglican parents. His father, Samuel, was a priest in the Church of England. His mother, Susanna, was an extraordinarily thoughtful and devout Christian.

The Wesley brothers attended Oxford University, were ordained as Anglican priests and were missionaries to America for a short period in the 1730s. Each had a life-changing religious experience in May 1738 and began to preach an evangelical message of God's transforming grace. While John was the principal organizer of the Methodist people, Charles was their poet.

Familiar Charles Wesley hymns in The United Methodist Hymnal include "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing," "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today," "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing" and "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling." With others, perhaps not as familiar, they contain the core of our Wesleyan theological heritage.

Wesley's hymns continue to:

  • Enrich understanding of the Bible, as virtually every verse is based on biblical text.

  • Teach Christian doctrine emphasizing humans' flawed sinful nature, the mystery and majesty of God's forgiving grace, a holy life loving God with all that we are and have, and loving neighbors as oneselves.

  • Provide inspiration and guidance for private devotion.

  • Lead congregations in praise, confession and affirmation of faith.

This Estonia Methodist Youth Hymnal was handwritten and used illegally under Communist occupation in the 1970s. (On loan to the World Methodist Museum by the Rev. LaVere Webster, Detroit.)
Heritage Sunday, May 20, is an appropriate occasion to celebrate Charles Wesley's life and legacy as we commemorate his 300th birthday.

Celebrate Heritage Sunday by:

  • Using the appropriate Wesley hymns in The United Methodist Hymnal for worship. The index on page 922 lists Wesley hymns.
  • Study Praising the God of Grace: The Theology of Charles Wesley's Hymns by Charles Yrigoyen Jr. [Abingdon Press, (800) 672-1789,].

  • Sing Wesley hymns found in Global Praise []. The songs use contemporary world tunes and voice his songs for the poor.

—The Rev. Charles Yrigoyen Jr. is General Secretary Emeritus, General Commission on Archives and History, and a clergy member of the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference.


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Charles Wesley exhibits

World Methodist Council Museum, Lake Junaluska, N.C., features original hymnals penned by Charles Wesley dating back to the 18th century. For more information, call (828) 456-9432 or visit


"Hymns of Praise: Charles Wesley" [EcuFilm,, (888) 346-3862]. A 90-minute video for senior highs and adults tells of the Wesley brothers' introduction to congregational singing and Charles' prolific writing.

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