Second Sunday after EPIPHANY 2018
Wesley Hymn Service Click here for audio
Sunday, January 21st was Laity Sunday. Our Lay Leader, Ben Jackson coordinated and led the worship service, which was a Service of Wesley Hymns. Below are the narratives that accompanied the hymns.
The hymn “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” is one of approximately 6,500 hymn poems written by Charles Wesley. Charles was a deeply committed Christian, a scholar, preacher, evangelist and hymn writer. All of his hymns were written from a sound biblical background. His hymns are filled with biblical allusions, and only four books of the bible are not used in his hymn poetry. It has been said that if the entire Bible was lost, the core messages could be reconstructed from the hymns of Charles Wesley. In the hymn “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” alone there are no less than 38 different biblical references.
Charles Wesley was the 18th child and youngest son of Samuel and Susanna Wesley. His mother was a homemaker and his father a priest in the Church of England. Charles was an excellent student and he studied at Oxford with his brother John. Together at Oxford they formed the “Holy Club”, a group of students who met regularly to pray, to study scripture and to visit the prisons. Their methodical ways of practicing their faith earned them the nickname “Methodists” and the name has been with us ever since.
In 1735 both Charles and John were ordained into the Church of England and Charles never forgot his Anglican roots. Many of his hymns were about the Christian liturgical year. “Christ Whose Glory Fills the Skies” was a hymn written for the Season of Epiphany. The references to Christ as “light’, “Sun of Righteousness”, “Dayspring”, and “Daystar” are all from scripture and they express well the Epiphany Season when we celebrate the unfolding revelation of Christ to all the world.
Our next hymn “Ye Servants of God” is a Wesley “fighting hymn”. It was first grouped with three other hymns in a 1744 collection entitled “Hymns to be Sung in a Tumult”. John Wesley recorded in his journal that year:
“The mob had been gathering all Monday night, and on Tuesday morning they began their work. They assaulted, one after another, all the houses of those who were called Methodist. They first broke all their windows, suffering neither glass, lead, nor frames to remain therein. Then they made their way in… Both men and women fled for their lives.
Many early Methodist preachers were subjected to such mob violence, in part due to their new practices, such as preaching on the streets and in the fields, which did not conform to the established ways of the Church of England. Charles wrote “Ye Servants of God, your Master Proclaim” to encourage them to continue preaching the gospel even in the face of danger. The hymn is based on Revelation 7:9-12 and it boldly affirms the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Our next hymn is a great hymn to justifying grace. In the hymn “Blow Ye the Trumpets Blow” the biblical themes of atonement and jubilee, found in Leviticus 25: verses 8-24, become an invitation to the whole world. The world is invited to receive through “the precious blood of Christ” a salvation that cannot be bought or earned. This hymn is well suited to the invitational context of a revival, and provides the assurance of faith that is relevant to every season. The choir will sing the first two stanzas and the congregation will join them for the last two stanzas.
The choir just sang one of the classic Wesley hymns. The hymn “Come, O Thou Traveler” retells the story of Jacob wrestling with a being, which is found in Genesis 32: 22-30. This may well have been one of Charles’ favorite hymns because he often thought about this story from Genesis.
Who was the wrestler? A man? A spirit? An angel? Jacob’s conscience? We don’t know. But Charles Wesley believed that the wrestler was Incarnate Love, Christ’s Love that claims each of us by name.
Two weeks after Charles’ death, John announced this hymn before a sermon. When he reached the verse “My company before is gone, and I am left alone with thee” he burst into tears, covered his face with his hands, and the entire congregation wept with him.
Our next hymn, “Jesus United by Thy Grace”, was first published in the 1742 edition of Hymns and Sacred Poems. The original title was “A Prayer for Persons Joined in Fellowship” and it was intended for Methodist Societies. The Societies were groups of people who met regularly, often in homes, for prayers, bible study, and the encouragement of one another in the faith. Today we often call them “Small Groups”.
Now we come to our last hymn. Since ours is not a faith to keep to ourselves, but rather a gift to celebrate with one another, we will conclude with “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”.
Charles Wesley wrote these words on the first anniversary of his conversion experience in May 1739, when by grace he came to trust that God “breaks the power of canceled sin” and “sets the prisoner free”. The well-known first stanza was based on a statement by the Moravian Peter Bohler, who told Wesley, “Had I a thousand tongues, I would praise Him with them all”.
So let us praise God with our tongues. The choir will sing the first stanza, all women will sing the second stanza, all men will sing the third stanza and everyone – choir and congregation will sing the fourth stanza.