The three greatest and most prolific English hymn writers are Isaac Watts, Fanny Crosby and Charles Wesley. Each of them wrote thousands of hymns.
Some of Charles Wesley’s best-known hymns include “Ye Servants of God, Your Master Proclaim”, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus”, “A Charge To Keep I Have”, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”, ” Soldiers of Christ, arise”, “Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing” and “Listen! The herald angels sing.
But many scholars of Christian hymnody have called this hymn “the greatest hymn ever written” and even when they disagree, almost all agree that it is the finest of Wesley’s hymns. He wrote it shortly after his conversion in 1738.
The anthem had many early critics who considered it unsuitable for public worship. His own brother, John, did not like to use affectionate terms to address God; he thought the use of phrases like “Jesus, lover of my soul” and “let me fly to your bosom” were too intimate and therefore he would not allow it to be used for congregational singing . It was not published in any hymnals until six years after John’s death.
Unlike most Charles Wesley songs, this one has very little verifiable historical context. No particular event is linked to it but there are several sentimental legends, often repeated. Some of them seem too fantastic to be believable. A story that is repeated most often is that in one of his many outdoor evangelistic meetings in Ireland, Charles Wesley preached a compelling message that was not very well received. A mob of angry attendees attacked him and intended to kill him. Wesley ran for his life and came to a nearby farm.
The farmer’s wife, Jane Moore, hid it in the dairy. Within minutes, part of the crowd arrived looking for him.
Ms. Moore blocked their search by offering refreshments. She told them she had to go to the dairy to get something cold to drink.
Then, in the dairy, she told Wesley to climb out the back window and hide under the hedge. Outside, he found branches overhanging a small stream that ran alongside the hedge. This gave him a safe hiding place.
As he waited for the angry mob to abandon their search and leave, Wesley pulled a pencil and paper out of his pocket and began writing the lyrics to this song.
Whether or not this story or any of them is true, there is no doubt about the hymn’s skillfully applied allusions to Scripture, its doctrinal integrity, and its universal influence in the Christian Church.
The great American preacher, Henry Ward Beecher, once said, “I would rather have written that hymn of Wesley than have the fame of all the kings that ever sat on the earth.”
Ralph M. Petersen and his wife, Kathy, are the owners of the OLDE TOWNE EMPORIUM at 212 E. Main St. in Rogersville. Comments are welcome. You can contact him at email@example.com or by phone at (951) 321 9235.