Charles Wesley was one of the greatest hymnodists in the English language. With his profoundly theological imagination and solid devotional sense, he deserves to be remembered alongside such distinguished hymn writers as Venantius Fortunatus and St Ephraim the Syrian. He entered Westminster School in 1716, was a High Church tory, and reports suggest a young man ‘ebullient with an over-lively nature’. As an undergraduate at Christ Church, Oxford, he told his brother John: ‘My head will by no means keep pace with my heart!’ He was emotionally complex, subject to huge changes in mood and outlook, and we see something of this ecstatic spirit in Love divine
. In May 1738, three years after his ordination, Wesley experienced an overwhelming sense of justification through grace by faith, and discovered what he described as a deep and intense peace. Of his 9,000 poems, nearly two-thirds are hymns. In old age Charles would compose hymns on horseback, and rush into his house shouting: ‘Pen and ink, pen and ink!’ This urgency chimes with someone who believed that Christian perfection was unattainable before death; ‘Changed from glory into glory’ only once we take our place in heaven, we may then cast our crowns before the God whose peace he had discovered.
Sung to a variety of tunes, perhaps its best-loved partner is Blaenwern, composed by the Welsh school master William Penfro Rowlands. The tune first appeared in Henry H Jones’ collection Cân a Moliant of 1915. Frequently heard at weddings throughout the English-speaking world, it was heard by the largest television audience in history, nearly two billion people, at the wedding of Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in Westminster Abbey on 29 April 2011, for which James O’Donnell’s arrangement was specially made.
from notes by The Revd Dr James Hawkey © 2014