John Wesley vs. Charles Wesley

Ah, this long anticipated family battle has finally arrived. Methodist Meltdown, Fratricide-apalooza, whatever you choose to call it, today's match-up will be epic. While they share a Collect, today the sibling rivalry will be bitter. A fitting end to the Round of 32 as tomorrow we kick off the Round of the Saintly Sixteen.

Yesterday, despite his impressive name, Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky lost to Harriet Bedell 63% to 37%. While he will be missed, those responsible for updating their church's poster-sized brackets will rejoice. Harriet will go on to face Thomas Gallaudet in the next round.

We recently heard a rumor that there are still some people who have not liked us on Facebook or followed us on Twitter. That seems impossible. In any case, it's time to vote between a heart "strangely warmed" and a "strange palpitation of the heart." If you find your own heart beating too fast with this heart-thumping saintly action, please call your cardiologist. The Supreme Executive Committee is of limited help in such matters of the heart.

JwesleysittingJohn Wesley

It may not be completely fair to call John Wesley an overachiever, but he provides good reasons for making that case. An excellent student, John attended Christ Church, Oxford, where he and his brother Charles established the Holy Club. They were mockingly called the Methodists because they were so methodical about church attendance, Bible study, prayer, and service to the poor.

After they were ordained as Anglican priests, the Wesleys went to the primitive colony of Georgia where they failed to impress anyone, and John managed to get sued for breach of contract by his sort-of former fiancée. John came back to England utterly downcast.

While in the New World, John had become friends with Moravian missionaries. It was while attending a Moravian service in Aldersgate that John felt his heart “strangely warmed,” and he gained a new understanding of God’s grace. It is out of this Aldersgate experience that John rebooted his ministry.

He used his remarkable organizational skills to establish Methodist societies within the Church of England, though he was barred from preaching in most churches due to his evangelistic methods. He often traveled more than 4,000 miles a year–250,000 miles during his lifetime. He preached over 40,000 sermons, mostly in the open air to working class people. He published 233 books, receiving over £30,000 in royalties, most of which he gave to charity, including funds to establish the Kingswood School in Bristol.

Although he remained an Anglican priest throughout his life and did not intend to found a new denomination, his ordination of two lay preachers set the stage for the split of Methodism from the established Church of England.

He continued preaching until days before his death at age 88 in 1791.

Collect for John Wesley
Lord God, who inspired your servant John Wesley with burning zeal for the sanctification of souls, and endowed him with eloquence in speech and song: Kindle in your Church, we entreat you, such fervor, that those whose faith has cooled may be warmed, and those who have not known Christ may turn to him and be saved; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

-- Laura Darling

charles-wesley_1Charles Wesley

Charles Wesley was the younger of the famed Wesley Brothers, whose Methodist revival changed the shape of religion in eighteenth-century England. Charles was among the greatest hymn writers of all time, with over 6,000 hymns written during his ministry. Among his texts are such beloved hymns as “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” “Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending,” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” While often eclipsed by his elder brother, Charles Wesley was described by those who knew him as a “man made for friendship.”

Charles attended Christ Church, Oxford, where he and John gathered with close friends for regular communion, religious study, and prayer. Because of the group’s fastidious and structured habits, they were snidely called “Methodists” by their peers; the name stuck. Anyway, Charles was ordained in 1735 before going to serve as a missionary in the colony of Georgia, where he would preach and minister while also serving as the secretary to the colony’s governor. Charles found life in Georgia difficult and was often caught in the crossfire of his parishioners’ feuds; he returned to England after three years.

Charles experienced an inner conversion on Pentecost Sunday, May 21, 1738, at the home of the English Moravian John Bray. He described it as a “strange palpitation of the heart,” in which he gained the confidence and assurance of Jesus’ great love for him. His brother John’s famous Aldersgate experience would come three days later. The brothers would then go on to preach and proclaim that experience to all in England, especially in fields, factories, and under-churched populations.

As Methodism grew and experienced pressure from within to separate from the Church of England, Charles Wesley remained fiercely committed to avoiding schism from the church, which he lovingly called “the old ship.” Charles consistently and vehemently opposed any steps his brother John took which he saw as possibly leading to schism. Charles was not informed of John’s ordinations of Asbury and Coke in 1784 until after the fact, primarily to prevent him from intervening. On his deathbed, he wrote to the local vicar, saying: “Sir, whatever the world may say of me, I have lived, and I die, a member of the Church of England. I pray you to bury me in your churchyard.”

Collect for Charles Wesley
Lord God, who inspired your servant Charles Wesley with burning zeal for the sanctification of souls, and endowed them with eloquence in speech and song: Kindle in your Church, we entreat you, such fervor, that those whose faith has cooled may be warmed, and those who have not known Christ may turn to him and be saved; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

-- David Sibley


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221 comments on “John Wesley vs. Charles Wesley”

    1. I should add that among my forebears in the 19th C. were John Wesley Sage and his son Charles Wesley Sage [Sage is my mother's maiden name]. One of them, I don't know which, was a preacher in the old Bretheren Church, now part of the UM Church.

      1. It's true that Charles is easier to look at than John, but, hey, John did more than just write hymns! And John is better remembered!

        1. I believe John's justification for the action was an extension of the concept of baptism "in extremis" (sp?). Something along the lines of, there not being a bishop available (in reality, willing), anyone can act in place of a bishop...

      1. John and Charles were both loyal Anglicans. Unfortunately, John lacked the prudence and caution that his younger brother had.

        1. Unfortunately? Maybe fortunately. I think it's a mixed bag of cookies where the fortune is concerned.

          But I did notice a typo in Charles's collect (and I, a Baptist, of course voted for him on hymnodic grounds); "them" should read "him" as it does in John's.

  1. Tough choice today. I went for Charles in the end, for his loyalty to the old ship (of fools), for the seasonal hymns which I look forward to singing every year, and also because God has a habit of picking younger sons.

  2. Being from Savannah, Ga. and growing up at Wesley Monumental Methodist Church,I can relate to this match-up more than any before. I have always favored Charles for his dedication to music and his Mother Church. I was 3 at the unveiling of John Wesley's statue in one of the squares, sitting up front with my Grandmother. When the cover was removed the tall bronze brooding John looked down at me, causing great surprise and fear. It was a proud moment for Grandma a fearful one for me.

  3. As a Methodist seminary student who is in the midst of a history class, I have to do with John. His work brought Christianity to America in profound ways. While there were some Anglican priests in the country, they were not traveling through the wilderness like the circuit riders were doing. Breaking away from the Anglican church was necessary since it was not allowing people to hear the Gospel or receive the sacraments.

    1. Grace, thank you for that perspective. I was not aware that the Church of England was being quite so stodgy. And that's why every kid in Western North Carolina was a Baptist or Methodist (most had not even heard of the Episcopal Church, even though it was only a couple of blocks away). Great legacy...

    2. Grace, I'm not picking a fight, but as a librarian, could you please state your source that the Anglican Church did not let people hear the Gospel or receive the sacraments. I'm interested because I'm wondering how the people found out about the Lord, if that was the case. Thanks for your input.

      1. The key text on how the Church of England completely dropped the ball in the Americas is "The Churching of America, 1776-2005: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy" by Roger Finke and Rodney Stark. Anglican/Episcopalian church went from by far the largest and most popular religious body in the colonies in 1776 to being the smallest of the major denominations by 1850. The Methodists and Baptists had a frontier mentality, they followed where the people were moving, while our Anglican/Episcopal forebears had a fortress/Temple/parish mentality, "let the people come to us".

    3. Grace, thank you for the additional historical information so important to John's achievement as an evangelist in North America.

    4. According to Wikipedia, John Wickliffe translated the Bible into English in the 14th Century. One of the results of the Church of England's split from the Roman Catholic Church was having the services in English (The Book of Common Prayer). Both the wine and bread were given at communion. The people heard the gospel in English, could read the Bible in English and receive both sacraments. Anglican priests may not have been as likely to "circuit ride" in the 18th Century.Certainly the Methodists and Baptists were much better at that.

  4. Absolutely enjoyed and join the four comments so far. Regarding Joel's, John does not paricularly resemble my grandmother, but I have two older brothers named Charles and John which does add to the pressure. But our beautiful Trinity Church was built in the English Gothic style by shipbuilders and we sing the hymns to the rafters (in the old ship that warms our hearts with...strange palpitations). Charles it is.

  5. I'm not a Methodist, but this is still tough! A choice between the author of "Do all the good you can...." and the writer of all those wonderful hymn texts. In the end, hymnody carries the day! and I've thrown my lot in with Charles. (Poor John - never thought he'd be so far behind so early!)

  6. As a Wesley as well as a choir member for many years, I have to go with one of my favorite hymn writers, Uncle Chuck!!

  7. Never knew about the conversion stories. The Holy Spirit was moving that Pentecost! Makes one curious about what was going on in the Moravian Church at the time. BTW, Episcopalians are in full communion with the Moravian Church, so Episcopal visitors can fully participate.

    1. Thanks, Molly, I didn't know that about the Moravian Church. The Education for Ministry class I attend has just finished reading about the Reformation, including the Pietists. I was impressed by what Diarmaid MacCulloch called the cheerfulness of the Moravians.

  8. Finally! The battle for which I've been waiting! I prepared early for this one, taking advantage of a meeting at the end of last month of the United Methodist-Moravian Bilateral Dialogue. I polled the United Methodist dialogue members and staff, Holy Scorecard in hand. Once I got passed the strange looks (brackets? Golden Halo? Huh?), a lively discussion began. The clear consensus was "Vote Charles." His hymnody weighed in as one factor, and his personality as a second. One said, "When I first started learning about the Wesley's, I didn't like John at all." So, to honor my dialogue partners, I vote Charles.

    BTW, they also assumed John would win by a landslide. Prove them wrong!

    1. Gary, I love that you brought this up at the Dialogue! That's so great--and as a Methodist who hates to see the brothers pitted against each other, I also find that many gravitate toward Charles. I have a soft spot for John, though, because he was so messed up (that business in GA, wow!) but God still used him in such amazing ways once he realized that it had to be God's way, not his. I guess I'm drawn to the obviously flawed saints...

  9. Not voting today - but really "new world" -- a very colonialist term. It was not "new" to the people who had lived there for generations only to the Europeans.

  10. Clearly I'm outvoted today, but as a presenter and frequent flier whose ministry focuses on the Bible and the "method" of the Daily Office I've got to go with the traveling John.

    1. Are you the Rodger of "March Fourth!" fame? If so, belated happy one. 😉 Sorry, but I'm going with Charles. Hymnody wins for me. Pax vobiscum.

  11. first - the hymns. Second - we are Episcopalians ; we follow the "big ships"
    Charles won my vote.

  12. While an cradle Episcopalian, my Methodist roots come through my paternal grandfather's family. I have always admired both John and Charles as they were both endowed with eloquence in speech and song, making this choice even more difficult. John's ministry was groundbreaking, but I so love the hymns that Charles left us. My vote has to stay with Charles for staying loyal (?) to the Mother Church till his end.

  13. As an Episcopalian with Wesleyan sympathies, studying at a Methodist school, my heart and my vote are with John. His writings - along with the ministry of so many friends and mentors in the Methodist and Wesleyan-Holiness traditions - have been a tremendous gift to me.

    "The best of all is, God is with us." - John Wesley's last words

  14. The soundtrack of worship and prayer in the church of my childhood -- my heart -- and my vote - are with Charles!

  15. The toughest choice of all, especially having earned an M.Div. degree from Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, last May. I fell in love with John Wesley's sermons and learned that he was also a master of satire. His sermon against "Enthusiasm" is right up there with Swift and Pope. That said, Augustine of Hippo said, "He who sings prays twice," and a reliable source said that, without "Hymns Ancient and Modern" and Charles Wesley, our fellow Episcopalians wouldn't have much to sing. So, Charles it is.

  16. John does not warm my heart, but "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" sets it afire. As well, I rather like Charles's desire to prevent division in the Church -- while conceding that the Anglican Church wouldn't exist had there been no division originally. Bottom line: Music has converted more people than preaching has. My opinion.

  17. I went with Charles primarily out of older-sibling-overachiever guilt. Go little brother!!

  18. It's well worth pointing out that John never left the CoE and He never tried to leave. He was just responding to a very real need (albeit in a very ham-handed way).
    John's theology has been near and dear to my heart these past few years, especially the idea of the open table.

  19. I came to faith largely through music, and it is still the deepest way of prayer for me. Charles gets the vote today!