March 2, 2021
Once again, I needed a good idea and found a couple of saints to help me out. Today in the Lutheran Church we honor brothers John and Charles Wesley. Together they led a revival that was originally intended to remain within the Church of England. (Much like Luther sought to remain in the Catholic Church.) Their call to renewal included a desire for frequent communion and advocacy for the poor. Except for a brief time in America, they worked in England. After their deaths, their work led to the formation of the Methodist Church.
In addition to being a reformer and a theologian, Charles Wesley was a prolific hymn writer. His lyrics are frequently sung at top volume on days like Christmas and Easter. He wrote the words for Christ the Lord is Risen Today; Hark the Herald Angels Sing; Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing; and Love Divine, Love Excelling, just to name a few. In the course of his career, Charles published the words of between 6,500 to 10,000 hymns many of which are still popular. In the current Methodist hymnal 150 of his hymns are included. His writing was meant to spread the gospel to ordinary people. Charles died in 1788.
Charles and John did not always agree about their beliefs, but in 1738 they both had religious experiences within days of each other. Charles experienced a conversion on 21 May, and John had a similar experience just three days later. In 1739 when the brothers found they were unwelcome to preach inside parish churches, they took to preaching to crowds in open fields. They evangelized across Britain and Ireland.
As a Lutheran I find it fascinating that John’s conversion experience happened at a gathering where he was reading aloud Luther’s commentary on Romans, but today as I was noodling through the internet, I found something “new” to warm my heart. John Wesley died in 1791 at the age of 87. His final words to his friends who were with him at his death bed were these, “The best of all is, God is with us.” He lifted his arms and raised his voice to repeat the words, “The best of all is, God is with us.” May we all be so fortunate to reach our final days on earth filled with the kind of passion that led Charles to write such wonderful hymns and kept John believing that the best thing to know is that God is with us.
Blessings on your week, friends!