Today is the 224th anniversary of the death of Charles Wesley, one of history’s most well-known and best-loved hymn writers. His contributions to the English-speaking church are remarkable, which becomes apparent when you read the introduction to his brief biography at ChristianHistory.net:
He was said to have averaged 10 poetic lines a day for 50 years. He wrote 8,989 hymns, 10 times the volume composed by the only other candidate (Isaac Watts) who could conceivably claim to be the world’s greatest hymn writer.
Of these nearly 9,000 hymns, you’ll likely recognize “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” and “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” along with many others.
Duke Divinity School has done the hard work of putting together an organized collection that provides a “standard for scholarly study and citation.” The collection is organized by date of publication in PDFs that seek to match the original published resources. Each PDF also includes an editorial introduction about the resource.
Another online source for Charles Wesley hymns is, of course, CyberHymnal.org. Though this site only lists 265 of his hymns, each page gives you the option of playing a MIDI file of the tune, which is nice if you’ve forgotten (or want to learn) the melody. Once you’ve done that, you may want to search iTunes or Amazon to find a better version of the song.
If you’d like to learn more about his life and work, last year I read (and would recommend) the biography by John Tyson, entitled Assist Me to Proclaim. One thing that struck me in particular was the account of Charles’ humility, which is remarkable considering how talented and prolific his writing was.
And finally, let me list my favorite Wesley hymns. I find it remarkable and interesting that though Wesley wrote nearly 9,000 hymns, there are only a few that I know and love today. The march of time sifts through the multitude of hymns and allows the very best of them to float to the top. Here are my favorites (in order, even):
- And Can It Be
- O for a Thousand Tongues
- Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
- Jesus, the Name High Over All
- Rejoice, the Lord Is King
- Jesus, Lover of My Soul
- Tis Finished! The Messiah Dies
- Christ the Lord Is Risen Today