It’s the birthday of the English hymn writer Charles Wesley (1707-1788), many of whose hymns — this one, for instance — are among the most familiar and best-loved in Christendom.
Charles Wesley was born in Epworth, Lincolnshire on December 18, 1707. His mother, Susannah, gave all of her many children — girls as well as boys — a rigorous classical education, which included learning Latin and Greek. Charles later attended Christ Church, Oxford. After graduating with a degree in classical languages and literature, Charles was ordained in the Church of England, and in 1735, Charles and his brother John sailed to the North American colony of Georgia as missionaries. But the venture was a disaster, and the brothers soon returned to England, defeated and discouraged.
What ended up being the lasting legacy of this miserable voyage resulted from the presence on the ship of a group of Moravian Christians, who often sang hymns together. This was something Charles was not used to hearing; the Anglican churches of that time had choirs that provided music for services, but there was no congregational singing. The Moravians inspired Charles to begin writing hymns that could be sung by anyone, not just trained vocalists. By the time of his death in 1788, Charles had written more than six thousand hymns. Open just about any hymnal in just about any church, and the odds are you’ll find at least a dozen hymns by Charles Wesley. This is one of my favorites.