Restoration implies something lost and something found. The terms renewal, retrieval, recovery, revival all point in the same direction: to be new again, to find again, to get again, to live again. In talking with a craftsman who restores vintage automobiles one day, I learned that restoration means more than just making a vehicle’s exterior look nice. A full restoration involves replacing nearly every part on the car with a newer, better working one, from the gauges on the dashboard to the lining of the trunk walls. Such restoration entails a lengthy, and often complex, process. To restore literally means to build up again and this was the primary impetus behind the Wesleyan revival that arose in the Church of England during the eighteenth century. The Wesley brothers spearheaded a movement of spiritual renewal aimed at building up the church for the work of God’s mission in the world.1 Most students of this movement conceive its contours primarily through the lens of John Wesley’s life and work. The purpose of this essay, however, is to examine the language of renewal in the hymns of Charles Wesley and to identify the salient elements of restoration, renewal, and recovery in his lyrical theology.
The Language of Renewal
An exhaustive analysis of Charles Wesley’s ‘concept of renewal’ here is hardly thinkable. So, I am imposing two rather serious limits in this introductory section of the study. First, I examine Charles’s use of terms such as renew, restore, and revive (and their derivatives or cognates) in order to provide a roadmap for the larger exploration of his vision of renewal. Second, I have restricted myself to one primary, albeit pervasively influential source, namely, the 1780 Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists.2 I will draw upon hymns from other collections to illustrate the themes and concepts that emerge from this analysis, but the Collection constitutes a body of lyrical material well known and formational within the life of the movement; as ‘A Little Body of Experimental and Practical Divinity’, this Collection shaped the definition and ethos of the Methodist people. While I fully recognize the limitations and dangers of this design, I am also convinced of its benefits, and the portrait of renewal that emerges is both authentic and compelling.
While it is impossible to examine Charles’s use of terms related to renewal with reference to chronology, the dating and attribution of this poetic corpus being highly controverted issues, a detailed examination of the Collection reveals some interesting facts which lead to several broad but significant generalisations for us to explore more fully. The verb ‘to renew’ (in the form renew[s] and renewed) appears thirty-four times in the hymns of the Collection. Wesley uses the language of renewal primarily with regard to the change of one’s heart (six instances) and the restoration of love (six instances). These two categories dominate this particular set of hymns, especially when hymns that reference similar concepts like the renewal of the mind, spirit, soul, or self (corollary to the heart) and hymns that emphasize the recovery of holiness and the image of Christ (corollary to love) are included. Taken together, these two categories constitute two-thirds of these hymns. In addition to this, Charles also prays for the renewal of strength, vigour, or labour (six hymns) and emphasizes God’s work in the more cosmic dimensions of renewal. But these hymns demonstrate that Wesley conceives renewal primarily in terms of a personal, interior, and spiritual change.
Charles’s preferred terminology regarding renewal, however, revolves around the concept of ‘restoration’ (seventy-seven hymns include the terms restore[s], restored, Restorer, unrestored, and all-restoring). Here again, the two categories previously discussed are preponderant. Fifteen hymns refer to the interior restoration of love, holiness, perfection, purity, or the image of God. Thirteen hymns describe the restoration of the soul, spirit, or self. Most of the remaining hymns elevate the personal dimension of God’s restorative work as well – the recovery of life, peace, health, and most importantly, paradise or heaven (seven hymns). Wesley identifies the source of restoration in seven hymns, celebrating the fact that we are restored by grace, by Jesus or Jesus’ blood, and by the action of God, the ‘all-restoring’. Only three hymns refer to the restoration of God’s kingdom, the universal restorative work of God in nature, and the eschatological consummation of all things in Christ. Interestingly, nearly half these hymns are couched in the past tense (e.g. restored) with the implication that the renewal is an accomplished fact. While Charles affirms an eschatological ‘not yet’ with regard to the restorative work of the Triune God, he also alludes to the present reality of restoration, a dimension of God’s work to be celebrated. Wesley casts almost all his uses of the term ‘restore’ in the form of prayer, as in ‘Thine image to my soul restore.”3 In these hymns, the singer yearns for restoration and reaches out toward it in hope with expectation.4
In a number of these hymns, Wesley compounds this ‘language of renewal’ with multiple uses of these terms. Several selections from a dozen such hymns suffice to illustrate Charles’s enhancement of the images through this device. In his lyrical paraphrase of the Aaronic blessing (Numbers 6:24–26), he prays:
COME, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
One God in Persons Three,
Bring back the heavenly blessing, lost
By all mankind and me.
Thy favour, and thy nature too,
To me, to all restore;
Forgive, and after God renew,
And keep us evermore.5
Throughout his literary corpus, Charles employs a unique expression to define the outcome of God’s restorative process. He describes the fully restored disciple as a transcript of the Trinity, one of his most poignant metaphors. Without using that specific language, one of his Trinity hymns articulates the same vision of the redeemed child of God:
Thy powerful, wise, and loving mind
Did our creation plan;
And all the glorious Persons joined
To form thy favourite, man.
Again thou did’st, in council met,
Thy ruined work restore,
Established in our first estate,
To forfeit it no more.
And when we rise in love renewed,
Our souls resemble thee,
An image of the Triune God,
To all eternity.6
Two couplets from another Trinity hymn succinctly reiterate this central concept of restoration:
Restorer of thine image lost,
Thy various offices make known;
O that we now, in love renewed,
Might blameless in thy sight appear.7
In a composite lyrical exposition of Psalm 130:8 and Jeremiah 4:1, Wesley briefly describes the holistic consequences of spiritual renewal, implied in the supplication of the child of God: ‘My fallen nature renew’ and ‘Thy kingdom now restore!’8 In his hymn ‘For Children’ he weaves together the language of recovery, restoration, and renewal in this moving prayer:
Answer on them the end of all
Our cares, and pains, and studies here;
On them, recovered from their fall,
Stamped with the humble character,
Raised by the nurture of the Lord,
To all their paradise restored.
Error and ignorance remove,
Their blindness both of heart and mind;
Give them the wisdom from above,
Spotless, and peaceable, and kind;
In knowledge pure their minds renew,
And store with thoughts divinely true.9
In just over one hundred hymns of the Collection (about one out of five hymns), Wesley uses forms of the verbs renew, restore, and revive. The location of these hymns in the volume reveals some interesting facts. These hymns appear in every section of the Collection except for one—“Describing Hell.” This fact, at the very least, demonstrates the pervasiveness of these themes. Half the hymns, however, appear in just five of the twenty-nine sections. Sixteen hymns are found in Part IV, Section VII, For Believers Groaning for Full Redemption, and thirteen are drawn from Part IV, Section I, For Believers Rejoicing. These constitute nearly a third of the hymns related to renewal. Fourteen hymns come from two sections (seven hymns each), both of which focus on the process of being ‘brought to birth’. The remaining seven hymns of renewal relate to the intercessory ministry of the believer. It is somewhat dangerous to draw anything but very broad generalisations from this kind of analysis, but two conclusions can be made without dispute. First, the theme of restoration or renewal is pervasive in this Collection. For comparative purposes, a parallel analysis of the term ‘faith’, which must be considered one of the most central themes of the Wesleyan revival, appears in 120 hymns in this corpus, not that much more in number than the set of hymns we have been exploring here. Secondly, these hymns that allude to restoration and renewal focus the singer on the goal of the fullest possible restoration and the joy that accompanies it. While this is primarily personal and interior, it is not exclusively so.
These are some of the conclusions we can draw from the raw data, the minute detail, related to the presence of a language of renewal in the Collection, but of even greater significance are the major themes and powerful images that revolve around this theme in Charles Wesley’s larger corpus. Three particular themes—distinct but inseparable from one another—characterise his concept of renewal: the restoration of perfect love in the child of God, the revival of the church as God’s instrument of renewal in the world, and the recovery of God’s rule throughout the cosmos.
‘To Perfect Love Restored’
In several selections from Hymns and Sacred Poems (1742), Wesley describes the condition of ‘a poor sinner’. The heading for his lyrical paraphrase of Revelation 3:17 simply replicates the verse: ‘Wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked’. In order to contemplate the goal toward which restoration moves, one must understand humanity’s loss and the plight of the human condition. Subsequent to two graphic stanzas that conclude, ‘And gasps to be made whole’, Charles offers this vision of renewal in love:
In the wilderness I stray,
My foolish heart is blind,
Nothing do I know; the way
Of peace I cannot find;
Jesu, Lord, restore my sight,
And take, O take the veil away,
Turn my darkness into light,
My midnight into day.
Naked of thine image, Lord,
Forsaken, and alone,
Unrenew’d, and unrestor’d
I have not thee put on:
Over me thy mantle spread,
Send down thy likeness from above,
Let thy goodness be display’d,
And wrap me in thy love.
Jesu, full of truth and grace,
In thee is all I want:
Be the wanderer’s resting-place,
A cordial to the faint;
Make me rich, for I am poor,
In thee may I my Eden find,
To the dying health restore,
And eye-sight to the blind.
Clothe me with thy holiness,
Thy meek humility,
Put on me thy glorious dress,
Endue my soul with thee;
Let thy image be restor’d,
Thy name, and nature let me prove,
With thy fulness fill me, Lord,
And perfect me in love10.
Unrenewed and unrestored, those who are blind and lost in the wilderness seek wholeness. First, God restores sight. Next, God offers companionship for a journey leading back to Eden – a process that restores health. The goal is the restoration of the image of God, which solicits the ultimate supplication of the singer, ‘With thy fullness fill me, Lord, / And perfect me in love’. This hymn essentially explicates the via salutis as a process of restoration. Wesley conflates this pathway toward wholeness into the four lines of a hymn based on Matthew 14:36:
Come, Saviour, come, and make me whole,
Who only canst my sins remove,
To perfect health restore my soul,
To perfect holiness and love11.
This theme of “love restored” dominates the lyrical theology of Charles Wesley. He views this as God’s most treasured promise. In a lyrical paraphrase of Micah 7:20, he expresses this first element in his concept of renewal:
Let us to perfect love restor’d
Thine image here retrieve,
And in the presence of our Lord
The life of angels live12.
I have no need to fully explicate this central Wesleyan theme (of both brothers) as it has been explored in great detail elsewhere13. But I do need to make several important observations about this aspect of restoration, with illustrations drawn from the hymns of the Collection in particular.
The restoration of the heart
One of Wesley’s more famous hymns, which appeared in a number of collections including that of 1780, expresses his most mature vision of a life restored to perfect holiness or love:
O for a heart to praise my God,
A heart from sin set free!
A heart that always feels thy blood,
So freely spilt for me!
A heart in every thought renewed
And full of love divine,
Perfect and right and pure and good,
A copy, Lord, of thine.
Thy nature, gracious Lord, impart;
Come quickly from above;
Write thy new name upon my heart,
Thy new, best name of Love14.
Given the fact that whatever is written on the heart reflects the true character of the person, God must restore, or transcribe, the heart fully. His hymn celebrates the heart of the believer—the heart upon which God has written the law of love. God writes on the heart, shapes the character, forms the disciple, restores the image of Christ in the child. In a hymn most likely written for Elizabeth Carr, whom Wesley baptised in the river at Cowley near Oxford in 1748, he prays:
Father, all thy love reveal,
Jesus all thy mind impart,
Holy Ghost, renew, and dwell
Forever in her heart15.
The restoration of the image of Christ
In a hymn from the section of the Collection related to ‘groaning for full redemption’, Charles appeals to the Trinity to bring this great work to completion:
Father, Son, and Holy-Ghost,
In council join again
To restore thine image, lost
By frail apostate man:
O might I thy form express,
Thro’ faith begotten from above,
Stampt with real holiness,
And fill’d with perfect love!16
These images pervade this section of the hymnal as Charles explores the many dimensions of redemption’s goal. He concludes a twenty-stanza reflection on ‘the mind of Christ’ in Philippians 2:5 with this confident affirmation:
I shall fully be restor’d
To the image of my Lord,
Witnessing to all mankind,
Jesu’s is a PERFECT mind17
The phrase ‘restoration of the image of Christ’, the positive expression of his ‘renewal of our fallen nature’, reflects the heart of Wesley’s vision of ‘the one thing needful’.18
The Restoration of Christ-like Love
Restoration of the image of Christ implies Christ-likeness.19 In a hymn which he located in the section on ‘full redemption’ for the two-volume Hymns and Sacred Poems published in 1749 (but not included in the 1780 Collection), Wesley explicitly connects this restoration with conformity to Christ:
We rest on His word
We shall here be restored
To His image; the servant shall be as his Lord.20
Those who bear the image of Christ conform to him in mind and life, and more than anything else, this infers Christ-like love. The ‘believer brought to the birth” cries out: ‘O cut short the work and make / Me now a creature new! . . . Let my life declare thy power; / To thy perfect love restored.’21 Hymns in the ‘believers rejoicing’ section of the Collection are replete with references to ‘love renewed’, several of them drawn from the Trinity hymns. ‘O that we now in love renew’d / Might blameless in thy sight appear’.22 Another from this collection echoes themes already explored:
And when we rise in love renew’d,
Our souls resemble thee,
An image of the Tri-une God
To all eternity.23
As one hymn explaining the purpose of life puts it so succinctly: ‘[We] rise renewed in perfect love’.24
This personal, spiritual restoration of love divine in the heart and life of the believer is so central and so pervasive that there is a sense in which all other aspects of renewal occupy a space secondary to this. But this personal dimension of restoration is only half the story. Renewal of the spirit leads, or should lead, to engagement in God’s rule and reign in the world. Jesus preached about the kingdom of God, with regard to which personal salvation was only one aspect. Partnership with God in God’s work must also be restored if God’s children are to live out their lives—their vocation—with integrity in the world.
Thy Kingdom Now Restore
The mission of God is the starting point of our identity and calling. The important thing is not what we are doing but what God is doing in this world. God’s creative and redemptive agenda is the consummate restoration of the good. In the revelation of his divine Triune character of love and holiness, and in as much as we are attuned to his nature, we are able to discover our true identity. God entrusts us to partner with him in the accomplishment of his mission—the extension of his shalom Kingdom.25
Charles Wesley was such a student of the Bible that he could hardly have missed the emphasis on the kingdom of God throughout the biblical narrative, more specifically in the ministry of Jesus. ‘The concept of the Kingdom of God involves, in a real sense,’ claimed John Bright, ‘the total message of the Bible.’26 While Wesley seldom used language often used today with regard to this axial theme of scripture, his hymns and sacred poems address all the issues surrounding God’s rule and reign—God’s dominion. It would be pedantic simply to gather all Charles’s references to the term ‘kingdom’; but the statistics are somewhat overwhelming. Simply to illustrate, in his two published volumes of Scripture Hymns, the term appears more than 150 times. Likewise, in his manuscript hymns on Matthew’s Gospel—a biblical document in which the kingdom of God figures quite prominently—Wesley appropriates the term in more than 100 instances. Much greater significance attaches to the constituent elements of God’s dominion in the biblical witness and the process by which the children of God are resituated in God’s shalom. Given Charles’s emphasis on kingdom, it should be no surprise that the petition in the Lord’s Prayer—‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’ (Matthew 6:10)—figures prominently in his hymns and serves as a signature text for this biblical theme. He refers to this verse explicitly sixteen times in the Collection. Wesley discerns a dual focus related to God’s dominion in this text—the importance of both God’s kingdom and God’s will. The signature hymn for the biblical theme of dominion comes from Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer. Charles prepared two lyrical paraphrases of Luke 11:2 which, together, form a composite hymn:
Father of me, and all mankind,
And all the hosts above,
Let every understanding mind
Unite to praise thy love;
To know thy nature and thy name,
One God in Persons Three,
And glorify the great I AM
Through all eternity.
Thy kingdom come, with power and grace,
To every heart of man;
Thy peace and joy, and righteousness,
In all our bosoms reign.
Thy righteousness our sin keep down,
Thy peace our passions bind,
And let us in thy joy unknown,
The first dominion find.
The righteousness that never ends,
But makes an end of sin,
The joy that human thought transcends,
Into our souls bring in;
The kingdom of established peace,
Which can no more remove;
The perfect power of godliness,
Th’omnipotence of love.27
Charles yearns for all people to rediscover this ‘first dominion’ which God’s creatures rejected and ignored. As in his doctrine of redemption, restoration plays a central role in his concept of Christ’s kingdom. People, in his view, do not build the kingdom; rather, God must restore the rule of Christ. Believers receive the kingdom into their hearts and then partner with God in this work in the world. Wesley’s hymn reflects multiple facets of God’s dominion, but he alludes primarily here to Romans 14:17—the kingdom of God is righteousness, and peace, and joy. In his poetic corpus he defines God’s dominion along the lines of this important trilogy frequently. To gain a better understanding of his ‘lyrical kingdom theology’ we will explore his concepts of the kingdom of heart, the character of the kingdom, the church as a missional community, and the ‘already but not yet’ character of God’s rule.
The Character of the Kingdom—Righteousness, Joy, and Peace
In his hymns related to the kingdom of God, Wesley exploits all the stories and language provided by Jesus in his own teachings on this theme. Charles’s manuscript hymns on the Gospels are replete with this dominion imagery. The kingdom is like leaven in a loaf of bread (Matthew 13:33), exerting a catalytic influence in the heart:
That heavenly principle within
Doth it at once its power exert,
At once root out the seed of sin,
And spread perfection through the heart.28
God will not let this ‘spark expire’, Wesley maintains. God will ultimately ‘obtain the victory’ and ‘Fix the kingdom in my heart.’29 The kingdom is like a grain of mustard seed (Luke 13:18). Like the ‘minutest grain’, it matures and will eventually ‘Shoot up at once into a tree’ (MS Luke, 201). The kingdom is like a treasure to be pursued above all else. Like Jesus, Charles admonishes the singer to place the highest priority on God’s rule:
I seek the kingdom first,
The gracious joy and peace,
Thou knowest, I hunger, Lord, and thirst
After thy righteousness;
My chief, and sole desire
Thine image to regain,
And then to join thy heavenly choir,
And with thine ancients reign.30
The kingdom comes to the meek. ‘O how unlike the kingdoms here / Thy kingdom opened in thine own!’ According to Charles the throne of Christ in the heart can only be supported by meekness, peace, lowly fear and righteousness, and its fruit is ‘love invincibly Divine’.31 Wesley warns his followers, therefore, about the danger of riches in relation to the kingdom:
Who wealth possesses here,
And is by wealth possessed,
Can never in his sight appear
By whom the poor are blest.32
This concern elicits one of Charles’s most powerful lyrical statements related to the pursuit of God’s kingdom:
Not with outward pomp and state
Comes thy kingdom here below,
Those that would be rich or great
Cannot its true nature know,
The dim eyes of flesh and blood
Never can its glory see:
But when I embrace my God,
Then I find thy throne in me.
Love, the power of humble love
Constitutes thy kingdom here:
Never, never to remove
Let it, Lord, in me appear,
Let the pure, internal grace
Fill my new-created soul,
Peace, and joy, and righteousness,
While eternal ages roll.33
Note his reference here to the grand trilogy. In the kingdom of God peace displaces discord and anxiety, joy supplants sorrow and discouragement, and righteousness dislodges depravity and sin. While each of these constitutive elements of God’s reign relate directly to the individual at a deeply personal level, they also have a critical social dimension which we will explore more fully below. In a poetic reflection on Romans 14:17, Charles prays with the singer for the realisation of these gifts:
Lord, I want thy power and peace,
Power to make an end of sin,
Joy to bid my troubles cease,
Righteousness to reign within:
Pure, and happy may I be;
Then thy kingdom’s come to me.35
The Character of the Kingdom—Justice and Compassion
Charles mandates that faithful disciples of Jesus translate the personal gifts of righteousness, joy, and peace into concrete acts of justice and compassion. In a hymn he composed for his wife on their wedding day, Charles affords a unique window into the aspects of Christian character shaped by the values of the kingdom.
Come, let us arise,
And press to the skies,
The summons obey,
My friends, my beloved, and hasten away!
The master of all
For our service doth call,
And deigns to approve
With smiles of acceptance our labour of love.35
The hymn encourages bride and groom to be accountable to one another in love and good works as a performance of God’s rule in their lives. Their common witness to the kingdom meant attending to those who were distressed, afflicted, and oppressed. Their kingdom work entailed relieving prisoners, receiving strangers, and supplying all their wants. Kingdom ministry included acts of justice and compassion.
Various forms of injustice clamoured for attention in Wesley’s day: hunger, poverty, slavery, and war. His hymns encouraged commitment to God’s vision of shalom and active engagement in ministries of justice. One of his Hymns of Intercession for all Mankind36 in particular, paints a vivid portrait of a world gone wrong, but offers an alternative biblical vision for life as God intended it to be:
Our earth we now lament to see
With floods of wickedness o’erflowed;
With violence, wrong, and cruelty,
One wide-extended field of blood,
Where men like fiends each other tear,
In all the hellish rage of war.36
The singer intercedes on behalf of humanity with regard to the atrocities associated with a fallen world. Charles calls upon Jesus to intervene:
O might the universal Friend
This havoc of his creatures see!
Bid our unnatural discord end;
Declare us reconciled in thee!
Write kindness on our inward parts
And chase the murderer from our hearts!37
He locates the hope for peace in the transformation of the human heart and calls on all faithful disciples of Jesus ‘To follow after peace, and prize / The blessings of thy righteous reign’. This, and only this, will restore ‘The paradise of perfect love’.
Isaiah’s prophetic vision provides the imagery for many of Wesley’s hymns that seek to promote this vision of shalom. His brilliant lyrical paraphrase of Isaiah 11:6–7 must suffice to illustrate the theme:
Prince of universal peace,
Destroy the enmity;
Bid our jars and discords cease,
Unite us all in thee!
Cruel as wild beasts we are
Till vanquished by thy mercy’s power,
Men like wolves each other tear,
And their own flesh devour.
But if thou pronounce the word
That forms our souls again,
Love and harmony restored
Throughout the earth shall reign;
When thy wondrous love they feel
The human savages are tame;
Ravenous wolves, and leopards dwell
And stable with the lamb.38
There is an amazing body of hymnody related to the poor in Wesley’s collected works. ‘Perhaps the uniqueness of his contribution lies,’ as Kimbrough has argued, ‘in the way he opened for the church to remember its responsibility to the dispossessed of the earth’.39 Wesley ‘creates a hymnic, poetically remembered theology’, he claims, ‘that articulates the imperatives of ministry to the poor’.40 Charles’s doctrine of the kingdom demonstrates God’s love for the poor, their important role in the community of faith, and the responsibility of all faithful disciples to engage in advocacy for all who are dispossessed. The following hymn well illustrates both Charles’s attitude toward the poor and the actions that faithful Christians should take on their behalf, all modelled after Jesus:
The poor as Jesus’ bosom friends,
The poor he makes his latest care,
To all his followers commends,
And wills us on our hands to bear;
The poor our dearest care we make,
And love them for our Saviour’s sake.41
Charles often depicts the kingdom character of those whose lives have been conformed to the image of the compassionate Christ through their ministry alongside the marginalized. Mary Naylor was one such woman, an active leader of the Methodist Society in Bristol noted for God’s rule in her life:
The golden rule she has pursued,
And did to others as she would
Others should do to her;
Justice composed her upright soul,
Justice did all her thoughts control,
And formed her character.
Affliction, poverty, disease,
Drew out her soul in soft distress,
The wretched to relieve;
In all the works of love employed,
Her sympathizing soul enjoyed
The blessedness to give.
A nursing mother to the poor,
For them she husbanded her store,
Her life, her all, bestowed;
For them she labored day and night,
In doing good her whole delight,
In copying after God.42
An affective experience of God’s reign and an outward performance of God’s rule defined Wesley’s doctrine of the quiet and peaceable reign of Christ. Embracing God’s gift of faith which leads to holiness of heart and engaging in partnership with God in the realisation of shalom—holiness of life—only become real as these twin dimensions are lived out in community and in the concrete forms of real life.