March 17, 2023
WHAT’S OLD IS NEW AGAIN
The second article in our series supporting prayer in the South Georgia Conference focuses on Charles Wesley, the sometimes-overlooked, younger brother of John. The eighteenth child of Samuel and Susanna, Charles was born prematurely and lay silent for the first few weeks of his life but certainly made up for it later by writing thousands of hymns for the newly formed Methodist movement. Charles, like the rest of the Wesley family, spent much of his life in prayer and wrote extensively on its importance in Christian life, but, unlike the rest of his family, Charles wrote of prayer in prose and poem. Prayers set to catchy tunes…what’s old is new again!
Due to the high illiteracy rate amongst people in the 1700s and the lack of any public education, many of the earliest members of the Methodist movement couldn’t read or write. Even if they were literate, the cost of books at the time was exorbitant and common people couldn’t afford to own even one book. These same people were required to attend the Church of England once a month. But the services were conducted in Latin, which they did not understand, and they were forced to stand at the back of the church because they didn’t have the financial means to buy a seat. There was a Bible located in each church, but it was kept safe on the altar and there were often literal gates keeping people from that part of the sanctuary. Thanks to Charles, though, there was a methodical way of alleviating this problem. Enter hymn writing and singing in worship and, of course, his belief in the power of prayer can be seen in his writing.
In the hymn “The Altar of the Heart,” based on Leviticus 6:13, Charles wrote:
O thou who camest from above,
The pure celestial fire t’impart,
Kindle a flame of sacred love
On the mean altar of my heart.
There let it for thy glory burn
With inextinguishable blaze,
And trembling to its source return,
In humble prayer, and fervent praise.
Knowing that he was a sinner and not able to rely on his own abilities, Charles Wesley asks Jesus for the means to always reach to God with humble prayer and fervent praise. Later in the same hymn, Charles writes:
Jesus, confirm my heart’s desire
To work, and speak, and think for thee
Still let me guard the holy fire,
And still stir up thy gift in me,
Ready for all thy perfect will,
My acts of faith and love repeat,
‘Till death thy endless mercies seal,
And make my sacrifice complete.
In a hymn for preachers, we see that Charles modeled the importance of prayer in his own life while asking other preachers, and all who serve the Lord, to do the same. He saw it as part of one’s preparation and power, therefore, a priority.
With all the servants of my Lord,
Whom on my heart I bear,
I fain would live, to preach thy word,
A life of faith and prayer.
The power of praying faith and love
Into our souls infuse,
With gifts and talents from above
Prepare us for thy use.
Finally, the original form of one of Charles’s most famous hymns “Soldiers of Christ Arise” is an extensive mediation on the importance of prayer.
Leave no unguarded place, no weakness of the soul,
take every virtue, every grace, and fortify the whole…
Arm yourselves with all the mind that was in Christ, your Head…
To keep your armour bright, attend with constant care,
still walking in your Captain’s sight, and watching unto prayer…
To God your every want in instant prayer display,
pray always; pray and never faint; pray, without ceasing, pray!
May we, too, pray always and without ceasing!
Anne Packard serves as Conference Historian and director of the Arthur J. Moore Methodist Museum on St. Simons Island. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.