Charles Wesley was born December of 1707 in Epworth, England to the Reverend Samuel Wesley, an Anglican clergyman, and his wife Susanna, known as the “Mother of Methodism.” Susanna had the largest influence on her children’s lives and faith despite her husband’s occupation. Charles was one of nearly twenty children, though only ten lived past infancy. Of his siblings, his brother John Wesley is likely the best known as the co-founder of the Methodists alongside George Whitfield. Charles went to the Westminster school and eventually to Christ Church, Oxford. During this time, he was highly influenced by his brother’s work and, though they did not always agree, became a Methodist.
In 1747, Charles published “Love Divine, all Loves Excelling,” a Christianized version of “Fairest Isle” in Dryden and Purcell’s King Arthur. During his time and ours, certain stanzas and lines have been omitted and changed. Though the verses did reflect a particular Wesleyan doctrine, this does not negate the hymn’s request of sanctification by the sinner and the Christian’s desire for Christ to come again so that we might be with and praise Him forever.
Charles spent much time with his brother John and on one trip met the woman who would become his wife, Sarah Gwynne, whom he married in 1749. She had great musical talent, which was passed onto their sons, though it appears she did not write much music for her husband. They had eight children. Over the course of his life, Charles Wesley wrote at east 6,500 hymns and was ordained as a pastor. Though his life was filled with much joy, especially in his family, turmoil with his brother and other stresses finally took a toll on his health. Wesley died in March of 1788 and was buried in his own churchyard. But beyond his work with the Methodists, Charles Wesley is best known for his excellence in hymn-writing, many of which are still sung throughout the year in most churches even today, not the least of which is “Love Divine, all Loves Excelling.”
Love divine, all loves excelling,
joy of heav’n, to earth come down,
fix in us Thy humble dwelling;
all Thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, Thou art all compassion;
pure, unbounded love Thou art;
visit us with Thy salvation;
enter ev’ry trembling heart.
The opening verse begins with Christ, recognized both by naming Him and by calling Him who He is. And who is the Son? The Son is love, a love beyond anything that we could imagine or hope to experience here on earth, and yet this love, this joy, came down from His heavenly kingdom to the earth He created (Jhn. 3:16-17, 1 Jhn. 4:7-21). And why? To “fix in us” a place for Him to dwell and to put in us His faithfulness and mercy, all of which we desperately need (Jhn. 6:56, 15:5, 1 Cor. 6:19-20, Heb. 12:2). The verse continues with other attributes of Christ that we also need: His compassion and endless, perfect love (1 Jhn. 3:1, Rom. 8:35-39, Eph. 3:14-21). Thus we ask that He would grant us salvation and enter all of us, which, thanks be to God, He has! (Psa. 103).
Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit
into ev’ry troubled breast!
Let us all in Thee inherit;
let us find the promised rest.
Take away the love of sinning;
Alpha and Omega be;
end of faith, as its beginning,
set our hearts at liberty.
As Spirit means “breath” or “wind,” so too we ask that the Spirit may breathe such life into our troubled hearts, dwelling within us, granting us peace and rest (Jhn. 20:21-22, Rom. 5:1-5, 1 Cor. 6:19-20). This is the line that was changed, but we do ask for strength that we might resist temptation and sin, which in our flesh we love to dwell, but in the Spirit we know to hate (Psa. 103:13-18, Mat. 6:13, Rom. 7:14-25). Thus, we ask that God may be the first and the last in our hearts, souls, and minds, the entirety of faith, that we might know this freedom we now have in Christ and not be ruled by the evils in this world (Gal. 5:1, 1 Pet. 2:16, Rev. 1:8, 21:6, 22:13-14).
Come, Almighty, to deliver;
let us all Thy life receive;
suddenly return and never,
nevermore Thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
serve Thee as Thy hosts above,
pray and praise Thee without ceasing,
glory in Thy perfect love.
We finally complete the Trinity with the Almighty, our Father in heaven. Here, we ask for Him to return and deliver us, to bring us into that everlasting life and never leave us (1 Cor. 15:51-57, Gal. 5:5, 2 Pet. 3:8-15, Rev. 22:20). Though He dwells in us already, we desire His return that we may dwell in His presence forever. We long for His return not only to bring us into that heavenly kingdom, but also that we might never cease in our praises and prayers to Him (Psa. 84:4, 150, 1 Thes. 5:17, Eph. 5:18-21). Like the angels do now, on that last day when He returns, we too may serve our God as those heavenly beings serve already, as we already should (Psa. 103:20-22, Rev. 7:9-17, 22:3). There and then, we may fully be in His perfect love.
Finish then Thy new creation;
pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see Thy great salvation
perfectly restored in Thee.
Changed from glory into glory,
till in heav’n we take our place,
till we cast our crowns before Thee,
lost in wonder, love, and praise.
Finally, the hymn closes by asking that God might finish the new creation He has made in us. Not that we are not already a new creation in Christ, but that we might be made pure and blameless on that Day when we are restored to Christ and dwell with Him forever (Psa. 85:7-8, Luk. 2:30-322 Cor. 5:17-6:2, Eph. 5:25-27, 2 Pet. 3:13-14). Our changing “from glory into glory” is already happening now and will continue until that Day when we are with Christ and cast ourselves before the Lord (1 Cor. 13:12, 2 Cor. 3:18, 1 Jhn. 3:1-3). How shall we do so? “Lost in wonder, love, and praise” as we stand before the King of kings, our Mighty God, our Everlasting father who has brought us, even us, into the Kingdom of the Son He loves (Isa. 9:6, Col. 1:9-14, Rev. 19:16).
Blessings to you and yours,