Charles Wesley was a prolific hymn writer who penned a mind-blogging 6,500 hymns over the course of his life, often writing one hymn per day for extended periods of time. Of course only a tiny percentage of these continue to be sung with regularity in today’s churches. Among the enduring favorites are the holiday mainstays “Christ The Lord is Risen Today” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” We also continue to sing, among others, “And Can It Be That I Should Gain,” “Oh For A Thousand Tongues To Sing,” “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” and “Rejoice! the Lord is King.” Wesley left an enduring legacy to the church and one that is loved and respected within a wide variety of Christian traditions.
When Wesley began writing hymns, congregational singing was largely unknown, something that might come as a shock to many contemporary Christians. Anglican churches, which represented a majority of British and North American believers, sponsored magnificent choirs, but rarely encouraged the congregation to sing along. Having been inspired by a group of Moravians with whom they shared a journey from England to the United States, Charles and his brother John began to write hymns, and in doing so, changed the church forever.
Hymns of Praise: Charles Wesley, is one man’s attempt at allowing today’s Christians meet this prolific hymn writer and inspired man of God. John Jackman portrays Wesley in a one-man play. He mixes narrative with song, often leading the audience and his small foundry choir in renditions of his hymns, even occasionally playing the hymns with their original, long-forgotten tunes. Jackman, as Wesley, recounts the history of his life: from the early days of Methodism to his conversion and to his ministry with his brother John. He discusses his growth in understanding biblical theology and even discusses the wedge that existed between himself, an Arminian, and the great George Whitefield, a Calvinist. In short, he provides an interactive, amusing, 90-minute biography of this man of God.
On the whole the results are very good. I enjoyed this film and, to be honest, struggled only with the actor’s attempt at singing with a period British accent. Beyond that small complaint, I found the play and production sound and can honestly say that I benefitted from watching it. Hymns of Praise: Charles Wesley is quite a unique idea, and one that Jackman delivers successfully. It would be a valuable addition to a church or public library.