- I think I had imagined him to be a stodgy wig-wearing 18th-century hymn writer with dusty theology. Instead, I discovered in the lines of his song, a preacher and poet whose deep conviction and powerful art have refreshing relevance for the 21st century.
O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise, the glories of my God and King, the triumphs of his grace! ~ Charles Wesley
It was like meeting Charles Wesley for the first time. A number of years ago I headed into a Nashville studio to record a lesser-known tune of his titled I Know That My Redeemer Lives (see below) and to my surprise, there he was. I think I had imagined him to be a stodgy wig-wearing 18th-century hymn writer with dusty theology. Instead, I discovered in the lines of his song, a preacher and poet whose deep conviction and powerful art have refreshing relevance for the 21st century.
No doubt the modern musical interpretation of this hymn helped grease the wheels for my new-found relationship with the past. But in any case, as a worship pastor and singer-songwriter myself, I am glad to have found a new hero possessing a singable theology and the ability to create timeless art.
Growing up in church, I have long been familiar with his perennial hits like Christ The Lord Is Risen Today, And Can It Be, and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. But now these songs have taken on greater significance. I have been motivated to dig a bit deeper into the life of this great figure – who at times has stood in the historical shadow of his brother John Wesley. This, of course, is understandable considering the profound and lasting impact of John’s life and ministry on saints and sinners alike. But the fruit of Charles’ life seems no less impressive to me.
While reading portions of The Journal of Charles Wesley, I paid particular interest to entries he made in 1741 just prior to writing I Know That My Redeemer Lives. On Tuesday, April 21 he specifically refers to a homily he delivered at the funeral of “sister Richardson” with the text being taken from Job 19:25. Wesley recounts the worshipful atmosphere in the crowded room with such joyful and hopeful terms that I can’t help but think this event could have been the initial seeds of inspiration for this powerful hymn. One of the stanzas in particular seems to reflect this atypical funeral scene:
Joyful in hope, my spirit soars
To meet thee from above
Thy goodness thankfully adores
And sure I taste thy love
In his journal entry, Wesley goes on to describe the opposition they faced on the street as they left the funeral service and made their way to the interment site: “The whole Society followed her to her grave. Through all the city Satan raged exceedingly in his children, who threw dirt and stones at us…” The persecution and heckling would not deter their worship. Clearly, they were “joyful in hope.”
This looks like authentic worship to me – a wonderful intersection of scripture and human experience. After all, worship is in many ways our heartfelt response to God revealing more of Himself to us. I am reminded of the Apostle John’s words: “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19 NIV)
Charles Wesley had a rare ability to convert deep biblical truth into poetry. And with evangelistic fervor he, and his brother John, most effectively employed both sermon and song in the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Wesley’s journal subtly reveals a man fueled by prayer and motivated by a great love for God’s presence. Even with his grueling travel and preaching schedule (sometimes 4-5 times a day), he found time to write his hymns of praise… totaling in the thousands by the end of his life. A movement had begun and the church began to grow.
My chance meeting with Charles Wesley has stirred in me a greater desire to keep Jesus at the center of all I say and do. Like Wesley, I long to preach with greater conviction, widely proclaim the love of God, and be creative even in adversity. I want to worship with greater passion.
Now, if only I had a thousand tongues.
More On Charles Wesley
- The Example of Charles Wesley | Capturing Biblical Honesty in Songwriting
- Songwriting According to Charles Wesley
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Steve Garrett is a second generation pastor, worship leader, singer songwriter, and recording artist. Along with the three solo projects he’s released, Steve has also been a featured worship artist and lead vocalist on various recordings for Integrity Music, Promise Keepers, Provident, Word Music, Maranatha Music, and Kingsway Music. Nashville was home for 18 years, but now Steve is based is suburban Philadelphia, where he currently serves as Pastor of Worship & Creative Arts at Victory Church - a large multi-ethnic community committed to helping people experience God and the care of His family. Steve is fueled with a gospel-infused passion to create, equip, and inspire, and over the years he has travelled extensively in the USA and internationally on a mission to glorify God with his music and message. He also carries a significant burden for prayer and church unity. Steve is co-founder and former executive director of Franklin Prayer House, a growing city-wide collaborative prayer movement in suburban Nashville, Tennessee. From 2014 - 2019 Steve served as Worship Pastor at The Gate in Franklin, Tennessee, and from 2008 - 2013 he served as Lead Pastor of New River Fellowship, a church founded by Michael W. Smith. Steve and his wife Milissa are blessed with five amazing kids.