The Sermons of Charles Wesley: A Critical Edition, with Introduction and Notes

By Charles Wesley; Kenneth G. C. Newport | Go to book overview

Chapter 2 Charles Wesley, Preacher

It is reported that Isaac Watts, himself the author of some truly magnificent hymns, once said of Charles Wesley's 'Wrestling Jacob', that it was worth all the verses that he himself had ever penned. 1 Such high praise for Charles's poetic art is not unusual. More recent scholars have judged him to be Britain's 'greatest hymnographer', 2 and the 1780 Methodist hymn book, to which he was much the most important single contributor, 3 'a liturgical miracle'. 4 It is not surprising, given such recognition of real hymnographic genius, that it is chiefly for his poetic legacy that Charles has been remembered.

His own brother, however, reportedly spoke of Charles's poetic abilities as his 'least'. 5 This may seem extreme, and perhaps few would concur fully with such a view. It is clear, however, that it was not only in the composition of hymns and poems that Charles's literary abilities excelled. According to John, it was Charles and not he who was best able to express himself in letters: 'I am very sensible', wrote John, 'that writing letters is my brother's talent rather than mine'. 6 Similarly, Charles's journal has a lively prose style which conveys well enough, if generally rather tersely, the sense of excitement and challenge he felt as he went about his early work in America and later as an itinerant Methodist preacher.

There is ample evidence to suggest also that the craft of sermon construction, like the writing of hymns, letters, and a journal, was a form of literary activity to which Charles was able to give full and vibrant expression. Indeed, it was probably in the context of Charles's preaching abilities that John wrote to his brother 'In connexion I beat you; but in strong, pointed sentences, you beat me'. 7 This is a judgement with which one Mary Thomas seems to have agreed. In a letter to

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