Charles Wesley is known to the Christian world as one of the two brothers who founded the religious movement that developed into Methodism.
But he was also a lifelong member of, and priest in, the Anglican Church, as was his father, Samuel Wesley, and his older brother John.
He was born in 1707 in Epworth, Lincolnshire, England, and graduated from Christ Church, Oxford with a master’s degree in classical languages and literature. At Oxford he formed a prayer group with fellow students, and their emphasis on the methodical study of Scripture and holy living earned them the mocking term of “methodists.”
In 1735 Charles was ordained into the Anglican priesthood, and that fall he and John sailed for Savannah in the Georgia colony of British America, where Charles served as chaplain to the garrison and colony. The experience was less than satisfactory, and he returned to England less than a year later.
He experienced a conversion in 1738, and a year later began to do open-air preaching with John (who had a similar conversion experience three days after Charles) and around that time he began to write the hymns for which he would be celebrated and remembered.
He was married in 1749 to Sarah (Sally) Gwynne, who was 19 years younger than he was. The match was a very happy one, but not without sorrow—only three of their children survived infancy, while five others did not. Son Charles spent most of his career as the personal organist to the royal family, and son Samuel also became an accomplished musician and is often called “the English Mozart.”
During the course of his musical career Charles Wesley wrote the words to more than six thousand hymns, many of which are in use today. They include Jesus, Lover of My Soul, Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing, Rejoice, the Lord is King, Soldiers of Christ Arise, Arise My Soul Arise, And Can It Be That I Should Gain?, Christ the Lord Is Risen Today, and Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.
Two of the so-called Great Four Anglican Hymns: “Hark! The Herald Angels sing” and “Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending” came from Wesley’s pen. (The other two are All Praise to Thee, my God, this Night by Thomas Ken and Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me, by Augustus Montague Toplady.
Charles was strongly opposed to the idea of a breach between the Methodists and the Church of England, and parted ways with his brother on this issue.
When he was dying he sent for the rector of St. Marylebone Parish Church, John Harley, and told him, “Sir, whatever the world may say of me, I have lived, and I die, a member of the Church of England. I pray you to bury me in your churchyard.” This was done, and a memorial is located close to his burial spot. His son Samuel became organist of the church.