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. As a former Methodist, I have to go with Charles in thanksgiving for finding the "Mother Ship"!

  2. I just had to vote for Charles, because my Great Grandfather was named Charles Wesley Beldin. And I love Charles' hymns.

  3. This one was a no-brainer. It seems to me that Charles' hymns are far more lasting than John's decision to split from the Church of England. I also suspect that Methodism today bears little resemblance to that of his own day. Of course, the same can be said of all denominations. Still, Charles' words continue to stir and I haven't heard anyone quote a sermon of John's ever.

  4. As an art historian, I must say, don't hold the choices of John Wesley's portraitist against him when you make your decision! I would vote for both of the Wesley brothers if I could for bringing the message of God's love to the people through tireless travel and sacred song. The different gifts these two men represent are all vital to the continued strength of the Church. Let's make it a close vote to honor them both!

  5. The two articles are well written. However, John Wesley did not ordain Thomas Coke. Coke was already a presbyter in the Church of England. He "consecrated" him superintendent for the Methodists in North America. Coke had already served the Methodists in England with that title and with no objections. John Wesley did ordain lay preacher Francis Asbury in an irregular or extraordinary manner and sent him to work with Coke as superintendents in America. After their arrival in America, the Methodist Conference changed the title of Coke and Asbury from superintendent to bishop.

    1. Close, but Thomas Coke actually ordained Francis Asbury at the Christmas Conference of 1784, at Lovely Lane Church in Baltimore. There is a famous painting of that event. Asbury was ordained Deacon on day 1, Elder on day 2, and Bishop on day 3. John Wesley was quite upset that they used the title of Bishop, rather than his preference of General Superintendent. John only sent Thomas Coke after much pressure from the people of the new nation, who were now without benefit of clergy. Nearly all CoE clergy had returned to England, so there were no sacraments. John sent The Sunday Service, which was basically Morning Prayer, and admonished the People Called Methodist to partake of the sacraments as often as they could.

  6. The hymns did it for me.
    I thought the write ups for the bros rather slanted it toward Charles. Just sayin'.

  7. My grandmother looked more like Charles....and I voted for him because he resisted schism - something I wish more people espoused today!

  8. This one hits home for me in so many ways! As a former Methodist with Moravian roots who has a masters degree from a Methodist seminary, a lifelong church musician, and a current resident of the "primitive colony of Georgia," I have looked forward to this standoff. Elaine, I obviously missed what you found in John's sermons; they put me to sleep! John did much for the spiritual life of the colonial Americans and for that much credit is due. But he was so severe and, it always seemed to me, so much less joyful in his theological outlook than Charles. Charles Wesley has always been dear to my heart. His hymns have touched countless Christians in many denominations who sing his spiritually soaring sonnets every week. Even beyond the church, though, think how many people outside Christian communities of faith have been touched by "Hark the Herald"--even through Charlie Brown Christmas specials! My personal favorite line of Charles Wesley: "Till we cast our crowns before thee/lost in wonder, love, and praise." Love it, love it, love it!

    *Strangely, no mention in either bio of Susanna Wesley--mother of them both (plus 23 others), patient partner of husband Samuel (who spent his life writing about Job), the original home-schooler, writer, strongly independent woman (she left her preaching father's church at 13 and joined the C of E). Has she ever been/will she ever be in the brackets?

    1. BTW, Charles' opening words for the hymn were "Hark! How all the welkin rings!"

  9. I've loved the hymns of Charles since as far back as I can remember. His work to prevent people pulling apart from the Church of England makes him my choice today.

  10. Went with Charles after much angst. Could not choose at all till someone reminded that God often chose the younger son - so,for no better reason than that, so did I.

  11. They were both sincere Christians, but Charles, all those wonderful hymns, I have to vote for hymn........................groan.....................

  12. As a cradle Methodist who cut her teeth (theologically speaking) on the Wesley' brothers, this is a difficult choice. I found my way to the Mother Ship about 15 years ago but often identify myself as a Wesylan Episcopalian. I love Charles' hymns and our hymnal is full of them. But, John's words and actions still strangely warm my heart. If the present day Episcopal church just had a bit more of John's organizational skills and focus on social justice and lay leadership, it would be much stronger. It was the Anglican Church that rejected John, not the other way around.

    1. Barbara, I'm sorry your experience of the Episcopal Church's attention to social justice and lay leadership has been disappointing. My experience in my community (Madison, WI, with five parishes) has been just the opposite -- very, very active on both fronts. You might also like to read Episcopal Relief & Development's Lenten Meditations booklet for this year, which provides both fine meditations and a good overview of the individual- and parish-supported work being done around the world. You may be able to get it in your parish (free) or order it here -- you can also read it online, the link is here too:
      Lenten blessings to you!

  13. As a choral singer, I have always connected with the divine through music. Charles's hymns are among my favorites. (Lowell Mason, who famously set "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing," is buried near my home in NJ.) Also, I applaud Charles's efforts to bring harmony (no pun intended) to the church.

  14. Having spent 24 years in Savannah, there is a different "spin" on the Wesley brothers "activities" in the Georgia colony. More like they were "invited to leave" the colony ahead of tar, feathers, stocks, and other unpleasantries.
    There are several historic markers around the squares documenting their activities.

  15. Charles, no other. I voted on birth order, as I, too, am a second born. Also, John founded somebody else's religion. Finally, John did not write several hymns that I enjoy singing to this very day.

  16. I really thought this was going to be hard. Although I am a choir member and love the C. Wesley hymns (we did an evensong that was all C. Wesley texts, what totally won the day for Charles Wesley was his absolute conviction against schism. Our church went through a very traumatic divide where almost 40% of our congregation left with 3 of our 4 priests and almost all the staff and lay leaders. I think division saddens our Lord. One last point: in the great divide at St. Johns all the music staff stayed.

  17. I grew up as a Unitarian turned Methodist in high school, but was confirmed in the Episcopal church over 30 years ago. I appreciate John, but had to vote for Charles. His hymns are awesome and I love that I have dueling earworms for the day, O for a thousand tongues to sing and Love Divine..

  18. Wonderful men both, but the hymn writer won out for me. A neat aside about the Moravians: When they sing, even without accompaniment, they segue immediately into 4-part harmony.

  19. Suggested reading: A Ballad of Sixty-six Days: Charles Wesley at Frederica. Based on the diary of Charles Wesley while he was in Georgia. Written by retired Episcopal priest, professor and poet William H. Littleton of St. Simons Island, GA. A beautiful tribute to Charles Wesley's spiritual nature.

  20. Okay, so I'm a choir singer. And yes, I love all those GREAT and familiar hymns, too. But my family's Methodism stretches all the way back to the beginning, with John, the traveler. He's the one who took the word to the fields, to the settlements, to the laborers. Imagine travel back then! Wouldn't you be a bit hardened and grumpy, too? 250,000 miles! 40,000 sermons! Without John, no Methodism and nothing to sing about.

  21. If we're voting on personality, Charles wins hands down. He was the brother with the people skills. But when it came to leadership and organization, it's all John. The Methodist movement would have died if it weren't for his passion and dedication. Charles knew this -- he prevented John from getting married to the woman he loved, because he feared he would be too distracted to keep working the way he was. If Charles would vote for John, so will I. (Of course, as a Methodist pastor, I want to see one of the Wesley brothers advance in the bracket, and you all clearly like Charles better. So maybe I should cast my lot with likeability...)

  22. Methodist-on-Methodist Madness: now you've really done it! Well, I'm the youngest, and I like hymns, so I pick Charles. Looking forward to the Saintly Sixteen.

  23. VERY TOUGH choice! As a member of the "radical" denomination who solved their differences with the "Mother Ship" by taking the Mayflower, I had to go with John, who persevered in his beliefs in spite of adversities. Even though he didnot "abandon ship", he laid the foundations for those who could. I love all of Charles' music, and the " American Mozart" title is fitting. Both brothers are worthy of their saintly status. Thanks LM for giving me the opportunity to learn about all the wonderful people throughout the ages who have built the Christian faith.

  24. Wasn't John the one who refused to marry his former fiancee out of spite and as such prevented them from being together.
    We sang "Love Devine, All Love Excelling at our wedding at Christ Church Frederica, (St Simons Island, GA) where Charles was Rector. My vote is for Charles.

  25. I remain a Methodist because of the theology of John Wesley, but I voted for Charles simply because I think he gets a short stick most of the time and having read and studied both their lives, Charles had a more saintly personality. But let me go on record as saying that pitting Charles against John was not very saintly...

  26. As a cradle Methodist turned Episcopalian, I'm going with Charles because of the hymns. I had always heard the quote about living and dying in the Church of England attributed to John. Now if Episcopalians would learn to sing the hymns with the proper tunes and a more up-beat tempo!

    1. I'll agree with the proper tunes, but the tempo has to be slow enough to allow one to savor the words 😉