Sunday 24 May 2009

Bruce Hindmarsh on Charles Wesley (1707-88)

Bruce Hindmarsh, ‘And Can It Be? Charles Wesley Gets his Turn’, Books & Culture (May/June 2009).

Bruce Hindmarsh looks at a number of books which appeared during and in the wake of the tercentenary of Charles Wesley’s birth, which have helped to increase his profile, and in his own right, vis-à-vis his brother John.

Some of the volumes flow out of ongoing work on manuscripts which have never been prepared for publication, which has involved deciphering and translating Charles’ idiosyncratic shorthand. Hindmarsh wonders whether the flurry of material that has followed the recent anniversary of the birth of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) and the critical editions of his work that have appeared may now stimulate a similar wave of scholarship on Charles Wesley.

In the picture that emerges from recent biographies, Hindmarsh identifies four turning points in Charles Wesley’s life:

• 1729 – when Charles was at Oxford, during which time he renewed his dedication to ideals of devotion of a high Anglican sort.

• 1736-1739 – when he passed through a period of crisis, experienced a conversion, and found his voice as an evangelist and poet and hymn writer. (By the time of his death, he had produced some 9,000 hymns or poems, roughly 27,000 stanzas or 180,000 lines – three times the output of Wordsworth.)

• 1747-49 – when he met, courted, and married Sarah Gwynne and began a happy period as a husband, father, and well-to-do householder (in contrast with his brother, John, with his itinerant ministry and unsuccessful marriage).

• 1756 – when he settled down as a local Methodist minister in Bristol and later (1771) in London.

In the works he reviews, Hindmarsh draws particular attention to some which show how Charles reflected the period in which he lived, how his hymns and poetry ‘dialogued’ with Scripture and the world of his time, and explore his contribution to trinitarian theology via his hymns…

Beyond our utmost thought,
And reason’s proudest flight,
We comprehend him not,
Nor grasp the infinite,
But worship in the Mystic Three
One God to all eternity.

No comments: