A Wesley Hymn Festival

A service in honor of the 250th anniversary of the conversion of Charles and John Wesley (1738) and the 200th anniversary of the death of Charles Wesley (1788).

*Everyone who is able, please stand.

*Call to Worship


*Hymn: "Rejoice, the Lord Is King"
(PH 408; RIL 596)

Song Leader:
Two of the best-known names in Christian hymnody are John and Charles Wesley. In addition to being the founders of what we now call the Methodist Church, both men made a significant impact on our Christian heritage. John translated a number of German hymns, edited hymnals, wrote on theological subjects, and served the early period of Methodism as a capable administrator. Charles, often called "the sweet singer of Methodism," wrote over 6,500 hymns, including such well-known texts as "Jesus, Lover of My Soul," "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing," and the hymn we've just sung, "Rejoice, the Lord Is King."

John and Charles left England in 1735 to become missionaries to Savannah, Georgia. The Lord God put them on the same boat as a number of Moravian missionaries. From them, John learned a number of German hymns that he translated into English; he also acquired a yearning for the piety that the Moravians exhibited in their lives.

We shall sing now one of these German hymns that John Wesley translated. "Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me" was originally written by Paul Gerhardt—one of the finest of all the Lutheran hymn writers.

Hymn: "Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me"
(RIL 454)

Song Leader:
The stories associated with the conversion of John and Charles are well-known. Charles first felt the hand of God on his life after he returned from the American colonies; he realized a new purpose for his life on May 21,1738. Three days later John, too, "felt [his] heart strangely warmed." Thus began an evangelical movement within the Anglican Church. A year after his conversion Charles wrote a hymn of 18 stanzas to reflect upon that milestone in his life.

Now let's stand to sing the familiar stanzas from that anniversary hymn: "Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing."

*Hymn: "Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing"
(PH 501; RIL 363)

As you have heard from time to time from this pulpit, one of the ways in which we can learn from our Christian heritage is to read some of the great classics of spirituality and some biographies of great leaders and missionaries of the Christian church. John Wesley encouraged the Christians of his day to do the same: to read the Bible fervently, but also to study the writings of great Christian men and women. In a preface to an edition of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, John Wesley wrote these instructions for the reading of devotional literature:

First: Assign some stated time every day for this employment; and observe it, so far as you possibly can, inviolably. But if necessary business, which you could not foresee or defer, should sometimes rob you of your hour of retirement, take the next to it; or, if you cannot have that, at least the nearest you can.

Secondly: Prepare yourself for reading, by purity of intention, singly aiming at the good of your soul, and by fervent prayer to God, that he would enable you to see his will, and give you a firm resolution to perform it. An excellent form of prayer for this very purpose you have in the second or third book of this treatise.

Thirdly: Be sure to read, not cursorily or hastily, but leisurely, seriously, and with great attention; with proper pauses and intervals, and that you may allow time for the enlightening of the divine grace. To this end, recollect, every now and then, what you have read, and consider how to reduce it to practice. Further, let your reading be continued and regular, not rambling and desultory. To taste of many things, without fixing upon any, shows a vitiated palate, and feeds the disease which makes it pleasing. Whatsoever book you begin, read, therefore, through in order; Not but that it will be of great service to read those passages over and over that more nearly concern yourself, and more closely affect your inclinations or practice; especially if you press them home to your soul, by adding a particular examination of yourself upon each head.

Fourthly: Labor to work yourself up into a temper correspondent with what you read; for that reading is useless which only enlightens the understanding, without warming the affections. And therefore intersperse, here and there, earnest aspirations to God, for his heat as well as his light. Select also any remarkable sayings or advices, and treasure them up in your memory; and these you may either draw forth in time of need, as arrows from a quiver, against temptation (more especially against the solicitations to that sin which most easily besets you) or make use of as incitements to any virtue, to humility, patience, or the love of God.

Conclude all with a short prayer to God, that he, without whom "neither is he that planteth anything, nor he that water-eth," would so bless the good seed sown in your heart, that it may bring forth fruit unto life eternal.

Song Leader:
From that excerpt from John Wesley's writings you will be able to understand how disciplined the Wesleys were in their reading of Christian literature, and, of course, also of the Bible. Our next hymn reflects that same sense of discipline in letting the Bible and the Holy Spirit shape our consciences.

"I Want a Principle Within"

I want a principle within
of watchful, godly fear,
a sensibility of sin,
a pain to feel it near.
Help me the first approach to feel
of pride or wrong desire;
to catch the wandering of my will,
and quench the kindling fire.

From thee that I no more may stray,
no more thy goodness grieve,
grant me the filial awe, I pray,
the tender conscience give.
Quick as the apple of an eye,
O God, my conscience make!
Awake my soul when sin is nigh,
and keep it still awake.

Almighty God of truth and love,
to me thy pow'r impart;
the burden from my soul remove,
the hardness from my heart.
O may the least omission pain
my reawakened soul,
and drive me to that grace again,
which makes the wounded whole.
Charles Wesley, 1749

Scripture Reading(s)


*Hymn: "And Can It Be That I Should Gain"
(PH 267; RIL 451)

Song Leader:
Charles Wesley rejoiced in the grace of God in his own life. In his hymn texts he portrayed the biblical events of Christ's life: you all know great hymns such as "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" and "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today." Part of the Wesley piety is spurred on by the hope for Christ's return, an expectation that we share with the Wesleys as we join in the singing of the next two hymns.

Hymn: "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus"
(PH 329; RIL 183)

Hymn: "Lo, He Comes, with Clouds Descending"
(PH 612; RIL 605)

Song Leader:
And so the Wesleys taught, preached, and sang their way into history—working much revival in the English-speaking world. They never intended to form a new church, just to reform the old one. They founded Methodist Societies to supplement, not replace, the organized services of the Anglican Church. Their concern for the church and its worship is evident from a number of their hymns, including a collection of 166 hymns for the Lord's Supper, published in 1745.

But the Methodist revival did not come easily, for Satan did not want reformation in the church. Borrowing imagery from Ephesians 6, Charles Wesley encourages us to go forward in the strength of the Lord as we sing "Soldiers of Christ, Arise."

*Hymn: "Soldiers of Christ, Arise" (PH 570)

Congregational Prayers
There will be a time of silent prayer in which each one may commune with the Lord our God about personal matters and about the church of Christ, that we may all strive towards that perfect holiness of which the Scriptures teach and of which John and Charles Wesley spoke, wrote, and sang so much. If you are so moved, you may want to include in your prayer these words of John Wesley's covenant service:

"I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me to what You will, rank me with whom You will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be exalted for You or brought low for You; let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and heartily yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, You are mine, and I am yours forever. Amen!"


*Hymn: "Ye Servants of God, Your Master Proclaim"
(PH 477; RIL 598)


This service was prepared by Bert Polman, chairman of the music department at Redeemer College, Ancaster, Ontario, and director of music at Immanuel Christian Reformed Church. The original service included John Wesley's instructions for congregational singing along with a note to the congregation to read through those instructions as they prepared for worship. RW 8 included those instructions, so they are not reprinted here.

Since all Wesley's texts are in public domain (not under copyright), those texts not included in your own hymnal may be taken from another and printed in your bulletin. If the music is also in public domain, you may copy the entire song page into your bulletin.

The text "I Want a Principle Within" is to be sung to a Common Meter Double tune, such as SALVATION or SHEPHERD'S PIPES. If the melody is familiar, just the text need be printed in the bulletin.

The first version of this service was held in the chapel of Ontario Bible College (Toronto, Canada) in 1982 to commemorate the 275th anniversary of the birth of Charles Wesley.

Bert Polman was a hymnologist, professor and chair of the music department at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. He passed away in July 2013. 

Reformed Worship 9 © September 1988, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.