Charles Wesley and the Struggle for Methodist Identity

By Gareth Lloyd | Go to book overview

Concluding Remarks

The primary aim of this book has been to present a new evaluation of aspects of the life and ministry of the Evangelist and hymn-writer Charles Wesley. Such an approach is long overdue, as it is certain that his reputation and place within church history have never received the attention that he deserves. It is a sad and surprising truth that the most detailed biography of Charles was written in 1841 and many of its conclusions have never been seriously challenged.

This state of affairs came about for a number of reasons and it is valuable to briefly summarize the position with regard to the evolution of Charles Wesley scholarship. Charles was a controversial figure, disliked and even hated by some of his contemporaries; John Pawson and Michael Fenwick are the most obvious examples and there would have been others who felt the same way. Even preachers who respected Charles Wesley were exasperated at his outspoken ways, as shown by this passage from a letter written to Charles by John Valton:

Was it likely to do good to the cause of God to tell a friend of mine, that Mr
J. Wesley had a hard matter to keep us [the preachers] together, pride had
got such a
footing among us, and that as soon as your brother’s head was
laid, you forsaw what would be the consequence? Did you not speak stronger
things in your sermon at the fast day? Dear Sir what good can such unhappy
prophecies do the preachers or the cause of God? It will irritate the men of little
grace, and distress the sincere preachers of the Word.1

Such negative undercurrents had an inevitable effect on the way that Methodist historians treated Charles Wesley, with particular regard to the controversies that plagued his post-itinerant ministry.

John Wesley himself may consciously have promoted the perception of his brother as a man who in his later years was out of step with Methodism. Their disagreements were reasonably well known and neither was averse to attacking the other in print, albeit anonymously. In addition to the examples already cited, it is intriguing to consider

1 John Valton to CW, MS letter, 13 November 1779 (MCA: DDPr 2/55).

-234-

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