Methodist Church

The remarkable hymn-writing skills of Charles and John Wesley

Did you know…?

CHARLES WESLEY wrote 8,989 hymns (at least three times the output of poet William Wordsworth). Dr Frank Baker, a Wesleyan scholar, calculated that Charles Wesley wrote an average of 10 lines of verse every day for 50 years! He completed an extant poem every other day.

❖ John and Charles Wesley published 56 collections of hymns in 53 years.

❖ “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” was originally written as “Hark! How All the Welkin Rings” (meaning “how all the heaven rings”). Thankfully, Charles Wesley’s popular Christmas carol was changed by his friend George Whitefield, the famous evangelist who sparked America’s Great Awakening.

❖ Charles Wesley was an accomplished field preacher, who on occasion addressed crowds of 10,000 and 20,000 people. He experienced considerable opposition, sometimes from rock-throwing mobs. In fact, his well-known hymn “Ye Servants of God, Your Master Proclaim” was written “to be sung in a tumult”.

❖ John Wesley’s first two published books of tunes included only a melody line because he held serious doubts about the propriety of singing in parts.

❖ Throughout Charles Wesley’s life, his Methodist companions sang none of his hymns in Sunday worship. (Throughout Wesley’s lifetime, Methodists stayed in the Anglican church, which did not employ the new hymns in worship. Wesley’s hymns were sung in informal Methodist gatherings during the week.)

❖ Many early hymns contained more than a dozen stanzas. Charles Wesley’s “Soldiers of Christ, Arise,” for example, originally boasted 18 stanzas. Brother John Wesley

included only 12 of these in his 1780 hymn book – and he divided them into three separate hymns.

❖ The first hymn book of the Wesleys was published not in England but in America (in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1737). And it contained no texts by Charles Wesley. For his effort, John Wesley was “arraigned before a grand jury for altering authorised psalms and for introduc-ing unauthorised compositions into church services”.

❖ Though not usually known for writing hymns, John Wesley did write several original hymns, and he translated many from German.

❖ John Wesley often severely edited his brother Charles’s hymns, both for length and theology. When Charles wrote “Thou didst in love Thy servant leave”, John wrote in the margin, “Never!”