The life and hymns of Charles Wesley

The life and hymns of Charles Wesley
Roger Fay
Roger Fay Elder at Zion Evangelical Baptist Church, Ripon, North Yorkshire. Chairman and former editor of ET.
11 January, 2024 7 min read

Charles Wesley was born on 18 December 1707 at Epworth in Lincolnshire. Born after Samuel (Jr) and John, he was the third son of Revd Samuel Wesley, Rector of Epworth, and Susannah (née Annesley). The brothers had seven surviving sisters.

Charles’s earliest education with his siblings was undertaken by his inimitable mother and was pious, rigorous, and of a high standard for his day. In 1716 he entered Westminster School and in 1727 Christ Church, Oxford, where he graduated with a BA in 1730.

He graduated with an MA in March 1733. His education, as usual in those days, majored in the Classics, although his mother taught him the Bible and Christian truth.


Charles was sociable and vivacious, and it wasn’t long – once he was relatively free of family restraints – before he began to explore the dubious pleasures of his day. 

He narrowly escaped the clutches of a London actress called Molly Buchanan, who was appearing in The Virgin Queen at the Theatre Royal. Responding to John’s attempt to restrain his behaviour, Charles objected, ‘What? would you have me to be a saint at once?’

But by January 1729 he was ready to change. In a letter of 1785, he wrote: ‘My first year in college I lost in diversion. The next I set myself to study. Diligence led me into serious thinking. I went to the weekly sacrament and persuaded two or three young scholars to accompany me and to resume the method of study prescribed by the statutes of the university. This gained me the harmless nickname of Methodist.’

In fact, Charles Wesley was more or less the originator of the ‘Holy Club’, as the Oxford Methodists were soon rather scornfully named by their fellow-students.

They gathered privately to study the Greek New Testament and other religious works. They were later joined by brother John, who became the natural leader of the group. 

The Wesley brothers, along with some Oxford Methodists and friends of a similar status and age met regularly, at this time, in the Cotswolds for relaxation and cultivated conversation.

The central venue for this social circle was the Rectory at Stanton in Oxfordshire, home of the family of the Revd Lionel Kirkham. John was at this point especially friendly with Sarah Kirkham, one of Mr Kirkham’s daughters. Sarah’s brother Robert was a member of the Holy Club.

Charles was ordained into the ministry of the Church of England in October 1735. At this point he ‘only thought of spending all my days in Oxford. But my brother, who always had the ascendant over me, persuaded me to accompany him and Mr Oglethorpe to Georgia’, a recently planted American colony. Though both brothers were ordained, neither were yet converted.

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