John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was the most influential Christian leader of the eighteenth century. His conversion in 1738 may well be one of the most significant turning points in British history. Through all of his life afterward, salvation through the work of Christ on the cross was both central to his message and the foundation of his confidence for eternity. As he lay dying, friends gathered around his bedside. He quoted a short couplet based on I Tim. 1:15:
I the chief of sinners am,
But Jesus died for me.
For more about John Wesley’s birth, and his conversion, see Today in 1703.
Wesley’s energy and output are legendary. He traveled some 250,000 miles on horseback, during over 50 years of ministry. He preached about 40,000 sermons (sometimes four or five a day), and wrote dozens of books. Though his brother Charles was the major hymn writer in the family, John made a contribution in that area too, writing a few himself, but especially translating German, French, and Spanish hymns.
One lengthy hymn by John Wesley was written for the occasion of George Whitefield’s funeral in 1770, at which he also preached. It says in part:
Servant of God, well done!
Thy glorious warfare’s past;
The battle’s fought, the race is won,
And thou art crowned at last.
With saints enthroned on high,
Thou dost thy Lord proclaim,
And still to God salvation cry,
Salvation to the Lamb!
As to his translation work, we have John Wesley to thank for such hymns as Give to the Winds Thy Fears, Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me, and Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness. The original of the latter was written in German by Nikolaus von Zinzendorf. It is a powerful declaration of the efficacy of the blood of Christ to save us eternally.
Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
’Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.
Bold shall I stand in Thy great day;
For who aught to my charge shall lay?
Fully absolved through these I am
From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.
Lord, I believe Thy precious blood,
Which, at the mercy seat of God,
Forever doth for sinners plead,
For me, e’en for my soul, was shed.
(2) Today in 1811 – John Monsell Born
Anglican clergyman John Samuel Bewley Monsell attended Trinity College, in Dublin, and was ordained in 1834. For a time he was the archdeacon of Londonderry, Ireland, as well as holding other influential posts. He was killed in 1875 by a fall from the roof of a church that was being rebuilt. Monsell wrote 11 volumes of poetry and almost 300 hymns. Consider, for example, the powerful confession in My Sins, My Sins, My Saviour.
My sins, my sins, my Saviour!
They take such hold on me,
I am not able to look up,
Save only, Christ, on Thee;
In Thee is all forgiveness,
In Thee abundant grace,
My shadow and my sunshine
The brightness of Thy face.
My sins, my sins, my Saviour!
How sad on Thee they fall;
Seen through Thy gentle patience,
I tenfold feel them all;
I know they are forgiven,
But still, their pain to me
Is all the grief and anguish
They laid, my Lord, on Thee.
More commonly found in our hymnals is Monsell’s Fight the Good Fight, based on Paul’s testimony in II Tim. 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (For information on the traditional tune for this hymn see the third item under Today in 1491.)
Fight the good fight with all thy might;
Christ is thy strength, and Christ thy right;
Lay hold on life, and it shall be
Thy joy and crown eternally.
Run the straight race through God’s good grace,
Lift up thine eyes, and seek His face;
Life with its way before us lies,
Christ is the path, and Christ the prize.
(3) Today in 1880 – Robert Harkness Born
Musician Robert Harkness was born in Australia. After attending a gospel meeting presented by Ruben Torrey and Charles Alexander, he became Alexander’s pianist. He put his faith in Christ shortly after, and made several world tours with the team.
I can recall being taken by my father to a meeting Harkness conducted in the 1950’s. At one point, Mr. Harkness called for a verse of Scripture, which someone in the audience quoted to him. He told us he would create a song, on the spot, using the verse. He called for a musical key to write the song in, and my father responded with (as I recall) E Flat Major. I can’t remember the song, but he played and sang one, as promised. Afterward, I was taken to meet him.
Mr. Harkness created a practical piano course to assist church musicians and accompanists. He also wrote over 2,000 gospel songs. Some examples: Only Believe and Live, and Why Should He Love Me So? and At the Foot of the Cross.
I met Jesus at the foot of the cross
When I was bound by sin;
Jesus met me, cleansed my heart of its dross,
He gave sweet peace within.
I met Jesus at the foot of the cross,
I met Jesus at the foot of the cross;
All my sins were washed away;
Sin’s dark night turned into day
When I met Jesus at the foot of the cross.