Sunday, September 3, 2017
Jesus, Lover of My Soul -- Charles Wesley
He was a 31-year old, feeling grateful but also thinking of himself as a fragile and vulnerable creature compared to the God upon whom he reflected. Many stories contend for the specific circumstance that spurred Charles Wesley to call “Jesus, (the) Lover of My Soul”. None of them have been verified, yet the five verses he drafted have lingered for close to 300 years since their inception around 1738, about the time of an experience the composer evidently had at a place called Aldersgate (see picture). Perhaps the words are a patchwork of events that coalesced in Charles’ consciousness, or among other believers that inspired him to record what a desperate person might say to Him who can rescue. Charles evidently had already seen, or anticipated in his own future, various episodes that prompted this ageless poetry.
Charles Wesley was an Englishman who’d ventured across the ocean to America and then back again, finding along this journey or in his native land, perhaps, the roots of “Jesus, Lover…”. Charles and his brother John initiated the Methodist movement along with others, including George Whitefield, while at Oxford in the 1720s. They later traveled to the American colony of Georgia in the mid-1730s, though a rugged and brief tenure there led Charles to return to England in 1736. Perhaps it was the rough ocean voyage, or a brush with an angry crowd, or a small bird that sought refuge in his room that nestled in his spirit and caused Charles’ reflective thoughts. He had not actually made a deep commitment to God until 1738, at a place in London known as Aldersgate, and that too may have played a role in what he wrote about Jesus’ love for him. Was that period a watershed for Charles? His conversion was apparently genuine, and he devoted himself to ministry for the remainder of his life, so yes, Charles had indeed found something that revolutionized his outlook. And, he wrote about it, probably not just in “Jesus, Lover…”, but in various poems that illuminated his spirit for the next several decades, giving Christendom some 6,000 hymns to ponder and employ in worship. But with this hymn being in such proximity to Aldersgate, it provides a window into the newfound sense of spiritual freedom that Wesley was feeling. What were his thoughts, so close to that moment? He sensed the imminent danger, and like someone still breathing heavy with alarm, sought help from the most certain source. At such a moment, not just any haven is acceptable; in fact, Charles saw no others (‘other refuge have I none’ – v. 2). Then imagine being Charles, sinking, and being saved by God, the ultimate shelter (‘…dying, and behold, I live’ – v.3). It must have been quite an experience, one perhaps like Paul’s (on a conversion road to Damascus), to motivate Charles’ life over the next half-century.
Verses four and five could read like a microcosm or epilogue of Charles Wesley’s life after Aldersgate. He spent the time up until 1788 in England, ministering and raising a family with three children, two of which followed in his musical footsteps. He certainly knew personally the grace of God that he wrote about in those two verses, and must have felt fulfilled, in an earthly sense, because of the choice he’d made. He wrote in a portion of verse 4 ‘…thou O Christ are all I want…thou art full of truth and grace’. And, in verse 5: ‘Plenteous grace with Thee is found…’. If you’re still young, think about what Charles might say to you, if you are standing at a moment of choice. Think about where you might want to be in 50 years. Or, if you’re further along, can you still change something, before it’s too late? Read some of Charles’ words about Jesus’ love – it’s never too late to grasp for Him!
See more information on the song story in these sources: The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006; Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990; 101 Hymn Stories, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1985; A Treasury of Hymn Stories, by Amos R. Wells, Baker Book House, 1945; and Then Sings My Soul, Robert J. Morgan, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003.
See the following site for biography of the composer: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Wesley
See this site for all five of the original verses: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/j/l/m/jlmysoul.htm