Posted by: rcottrill | June 17, 2010

Today in 1703 – John Wesley Born

John Benjamin Wesley was the founder of the Methodist movement. His ministry, along with that of his brother Charles was, by God’s grace, to have an immeasurable impact on the morally corrupt Britain of his day–and eventually on the entire world. (For more about John Wesley, see Today in 1791.)

It is usually stated that John was the preacher, and his brother Charles was the hymn writer. While this is true in terms of the emphasis of their work, Charles too was a fine preacher, and John also wrote and translated a number of hymns.

Wesley’s father was a clergyman, and John was the fifteenth of nineteen children born to Samuel and Susanna Wesley. When John was five, there was a fire in the rectory and the boy was rescued as the flames engulfed the home. His escape made a deep impression on his mind. In later years he described himself as “brand plucked from the burning.” He prayed, “Lord, let me not live to be useless,” a prayer that was most certainly answered!

Many know the early efforts John Wesley made with regard to Christian service. Diligent, disciplined, yet spiritually empty. A largely frustrating work among the Indian tribes in America presented a severe “do right” morality that lacked the power of the Holy Spirit. After he returned to England, Wesley discovered the reason: he himself had never been truly born again. He attended a meeting of the Moravians on May 24, 1738 when all that changed.

During the meeting, someone read from the preface of Luther’s commentary on Romans. Wesley says, “About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given to me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

A new child of God and an ardent servant of Christ was born that night.

John Wesley made excellent translations of German, French, and Spanish hymns. Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness, and Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me, were translated from German by John Wesley. He also edited and revised the hymns written by his brother, and those of Isaac Watts. Most of the changes he made are recognized as improvements.

Wesley’s fine translation of a German hymn by Paul Gerhardt (written about a century earlier) could well be the testimony of the translator himself. It begins:

Jesus, Thy boundless love to me
No thought can reach, no tongue declare;
Unite my thankful heart to Thee
And reign without a rival there.
Thine wholly, Thine alone, I am;
Be Thou alone my constant flame.

 Here are two more translations by John Wesley. When we realize that the Methodists were often severely persecuted in England in his day, it will be seen why these songs meant so much to them. The first was written by Paul Gerhardt in 1656.

Give to the winds thy fears,
Hope and be undismayed.
God hears thy sighs and counts thy tears,
God shall lift up thy head.

Through waves and clouds and storms,
He gently clears thy way;
Wait thou His time; so shall this night
Soon end in joyous day.

Leave to His sovereign sway
To choose and to command;
So shalt thou, wondering, own that way,
How wise, how strong this hand.

Far, far above thy thought,
His counsel shall appear,
When fully He the work hath wrought,
That caused thy needless fear.

The other song was written by Johann Winckler in 1708. You can see the ten stanzas on the Cyber Hymnal. It’s worth reading them all, but here is a sampling. (Very convicting!)

Shall I, for fear of feeble man,
The Spirit’s course in me restrain?
Or, undismayed, in deed and word
Be a true witness for my Lord?

Awed by a mortal’s frown, shall I
Conceal the Word of God Most High?
How then before Thee shall I dare
To stand, or how Thine anger bear?

Shall I, to soothe the unholy throng,
Soften Thy truths, and smooth my tongue,
To gain earth’s gilded toys, or flee
The cross, endured, my God, by Thee?

Yea, let men rage, since Thou wilt spread
Thy shadowing wings around my head;
Since in all pain Thy tender love
Will still my sure refreshment prove.

Give me Thy strength, O God of power;
Then let winds blow, or thunders roar,
Thy faithful witness will I be:
’Tis fixed; I can do all through Thee!


Responses

  1. Pastor Bob this is such interesting and uplifting information. Thank you for all you do for the Lord and God bless you and dear Beth always. You and your family are always in our prayers…

    • Much appreciated Nancy. Have been wrestling with discouragement and stress lately, and as the Word tells us, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Prov. 25:11). Thanks for sharing a golden apple! 🙂

  2. Bob It is strange that today of all days I tuned into your music Blog about John Wesley as it was on the 22 of June 46 years ago it was a Saturday that Fred and I were united in marriage in Astoria Methodist Church as that was the church I was attending at the time of our marriage. Now 46 years later we see what God had planned for our lives as husband and wife. Keep them coming God Bless
    Lorraine Shepherd

    • So you have an anniversary coming up on Monday, right? Happy Anniversary a bit in advance! God bless you both.

  3. […] For more about John Wesley’s birth, and his conversion, see Today in 1703. […]

  4. Good morning, Robert! Just reading this post about John Wesley this morning lifts my heart in song — in the first two of the very songs, in fact, to which you have just alluded! The variant I have running through my head (from a hymnbook from some 20-30 years ago) is “O, knit my thankful heart to Thee…” (same idea as “unite”). THANKS for including these words — GOD is powerfully at work in and through your writings, you do know, right?

    “God is not unfaithful to forget your labor of love, in that you have ministered to the saints, and DO minister…” (Heb. 6:10). So when the Accuser comes to “track” you, Robert, may those first four words of this verse from Hebrews bring your heart God’s encouragement: HE is not unfaithful! HE sees and knows your heart, your work, and your motivation! HE is the Great Rewarder of those who seek Him, and specifically of those who “seek Him *diligently* (Heb. 11:6). You are in a long, looong line of “rewardees” — so please hold on, just a bit longer as you await the Prize! Don’t “throw out” your confidence in Him — when you’re finally at the very front of the line, The Prize-Giver Himself will “cash it in” (though He Himself paid the full Cost of the Ticket!) for that great “recompence of reward”… Hold on, dear brother, for I sense our God is pouring new hope, new encouragement down His heavenly “pipeline” for you, all that you would ultimately “receive the promises”!

    Speaking of “throwing out”, I think that John Wesley’s translation of “*Give* to the winds your fears” is much, much more poetic than simply stating, “Don’t throw away your fears…”!

    God is, and has been, “showing off” more and more of His character through you! THANK you for your research on hymns, their authors, and the use of hymnody in worship — oh, for grace (all from Him, anyway!) to trust Him more!

    p.s. I *love* what you wrote re: Ps. 28:7, and the real purpose of music in the context of a church service! NOT for human accolades! NOT for emotional revvings-up! NOT for keeping old tradition! Nay, none of these; rather, “All for JESUS!” (to the tune of Wyclif!) Blessings on the continuing work of your hands! — gracie;-)

    • Well! My oh my! Thanks for the great words of encouragement. My work on hymn history over many years is a labour of love, but it is wonderful to know it’s being a blessing to others in the cyber world.

      And thanks for reminding us of that line in stanza one of “Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Thee.” I actually prefer what I suspect is the original: “O, knit my thankful heart to Thee.” More poetic and descriptive. The “unite” line is a modernization that slipped through when I copied the hymn from somewhere. It’s fine, but I think the change was unnecessary.

      It would be wonderful if more of our hymn-singing on this coming Lord’s Day followed the pattern of Ps. 28:7. Too much that I’ve heard over the years better fits the three categories I describe. Thanks again, and God bless.

  5. […] Wordwise Hymns (John Wesley born) The Cyber […]


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