In the early 1730’s several young students used to met together at Oxford University, They were all members of a group called (in mockery by others) ‘The Holy Club’. These young men, who were earnestly seeking God, included John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield and others. They were men who were soon to stir the whole of the English-speaking world by their preaching. Each of them in their own way found the answer for which they were searching. It was the beginning of something very significant.
Some months before his own discovery, his sister was experiencinging for herself what Charles was so earnestly seeking. His journal records:
“Calling accidentally in the evening at my sister Kezia’s room, she fell upon my neck, and in a flood of tears begged me to pray for her …She was full of earnest wishes for divine love; owned there was a depth in religion she had never fathomed; that she was not, but longed to be, converted; and would give up all to obtain the love of God.”
A German Christian friend, Peter Bohler, had left these challenging words with Charles:
‘There is no peace without pardon.”
Charles’ own intensely personal discovery of that pardon and of the divine love came to conclusion on Whit Sunday 1738, after a long period of searching and struggle to really experience the blessing of God for himself. Three days before his brother John’s famous Aldersgate experience all became clear, as the journal gives witness. While receiving Holy Communion at St Paul’s he writes:
‘In the prayer of consecration I saw, by the eye of faith, Christ’s broken, mangled body as taken down from the cross…I could only respond with tears “O love, love!” At the same time I felt great peace and joy.’
God had indeed put a new song in his heart, a song that flowed forth in a flood of hymn writing over the next decades.
He is often regarded as the poet of the 18th century ‘Religious Awakening’ and his hymns have become a devotional treasure. As I hear the hymns I catch something of the excitement that was stirring among the crowds of these early ‘Methodists’, as they were called, each one with a new ‘song’ to sing. They were a joyful singing people. As Augustine said of Christians:
“We are a singing people and ‘Alleluia’ is our theme.”
Charles’ diary shows a dramatic shift. Before this experience the entries are brief and short, about practical things. Afterwards they become much fuller as he rejoices in his new-found faith. Fruit also is seen to his ministry as people come to him seeking to find peace in Christ as he had done.
No doubt this popular hymn was based upon Charles’ own experience:
And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Saviour’s blood
Died he for me who caused him pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, should die for me?
What ‘depths as yet unfathomed’ are there in my life and experience of Christ? I have loved Charles Wesley’s deeply devotional hymns ever since my student days. They remind me of the great tinngs God has done in this country in the past and challenge me to know and love him as those early Methodists did.
Credit – Featured Image – Christ Church College, Oxford photo by Peter Trimming – and the other two photos – Creative commons license via Wikimedia.