Charles Wesley And Methodist Hymns. -- By: Frederic M. Bird

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 021:81 (Jan 1864)
Article: Charles Wesley And Methodist Hymns.
Author: Frederic M. Bird


Charles Wesley And Methodist Hymns.1

Rev. Frederic M. Bird

It is a singular circumstance that the most prolific and powerful of Christian lyric poets should be comparatively unknown. Positively unknown he is not; his praise is in all the churches; no Christian denomination has entirely refused to accept his valuable help in the common work of worship; in every modern English and American hymn book he is represented by some of the noblest of spiritual songs. But relatively to his genius and his works, the world knows little of him. Perhaps one tenth of his poetry is yet in print. The Methodists cherish his memory, and their various collections contain some eight hundred hymns bearing his honored name. Other hymnals have a sprinkling of the Wesleyan style and spirit, more or less, according to the views, the prejudices, the knowledge of their editors: if

the compiler have an unusually liberal spirit, and a rare acquaintance with his subject, the number of Wesleyan hymns may approach one hundred. But we have yet to see an American non-Methodist selection which does fair justice to the greatest of hymn writers.

Beyond what is contained in the standard denominational hymn books, the Wesleyan poetry is inaccessible to ordinary readers, and can be reached by the most zealous bookworm (in America at least) only at some expense of time, trouble, and labor. It is scattered through over thirty separate publications, the dates of which range from 1738 to 1785. Most of these were never reprinted; and all, except three which have been republished by the British Methodists within the century, have been out of print for many years. So much for the published poems (between four and five thousand) of Charles Wesley; but there are pearly as many, says his biographer, which he left in manuscript at his death, and which have never seen the light. Such is the enterprise and spirit of the English Wesleyan Conference, to which they belong.

It is difficult properly to handle a subject of such magnitude, and one which has been so little studied and appreciated. “The glorious reproach of Methodism “is scarcely yet extinct; the name of Wesley still arouses many old-time prejudices: Calvinists have not quite lost their suspicion of the Arminian teacher, nor churchmen forgotten to look coldly upon the great schismatic. Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? Charles Wesley was the “bard of Methodism”; and most people, without knowing very thoroughly what Methodism is, judge it to be something quite different from other forms of Christianity, and therefore conclude that its poet can hardly be the poet of the church at large. Mr. Creamer, in ...

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