Reformed Theological Review, April 2010
Charles Wesley ’wrote between six thousand and nine thousand hymns and sacred poems and more than four hundred of these continue in modern hymnals’. ’Charles Wesley had an undying love for the Church of England’. ’Methodism was to be understood as a renewal movement within the Church of England’. ’Charles Wesley was a happily married family man’. These quotations from this detailed, enlightening book indicate the main strands of the work. Tyson, like most other people, first knew of Charles Wesley by singing his hymns from early years of church attendance. Much later in life, he wrote a PhD thesis on Charles Wesley, and his studies take published form in this book. He skillfully weaves the different strands of Charles Wesley’s life and relationships.
Wesley’s struggles with the way Methodism developed is well documented along with the sometimes strained relationship with his brother, John. Why John is remembered as the founder ofthe Methodist movement and why Charles’ instrumental part is somewhat overlooked is explored. It is delightful to read of his happy marriage to Sally and of his diligent role as a father. Yet this produced strife within Methodism because of the itinerant lifestyle that was expected of him and which he increasingly felt unwilling and unable to maintain.
Many poems and hymns are quoted in this book and many are unknown to this reader despite the large number ofWesley’s hymns still in common use. He must have written one poem or hymn almost every day of his adult life. There are oddly amusing poems on unusual subjects, for example, on his pets, as well as heartfelt ones about his wife and children. There are also heartbreaking poems from times when he faced the deaths of some of his children, From Wesley’s pen came some of the most theologically dense yet personally uplifting hymns in the English language.
This book is part of the Library of Religious Biography series which seeks to place its subject within his or her religious and cultural context. Certainly this aim is achieved in present case. Diligent research into previously published and unpublished sources is evident. This book will fill out readers’ understanding of Charles Wesley as a person and make us even more receptive to the huge musical and spiritual legacy he has left behind.