Happy 314th birthday, Charles Wesley (1707-1788). The birthday of Charles Wesley, the Methodist movement’s poet theologian provides us opportunity to reflect on our beginning, revival, heritage, our mission and purpose as Methodist Christians. The Methodist Revival born in the power of the Holy Spirit. The revival led by John and Charles Wesley, ‘otherwise known as the “British Great Awakening” or the “Evangelical Revival” was probably the greatest revival to affect Britain in terms of the impact that it made on the nation’ and people.
Charles’ in his ‘Hymn for Christmas-Day’ prays, “Come, Thou long-expected Jesus.” Charles prayer in this hymn suggests a wake-up call for the sleeping church to what Gordon Giles calls ‘a decaffeinated Advent’ and ‘the chocolatisation of Christianity’ that ‘removes the watchfulness, the vigilance and the fearful, joyful expectation of the return of Christ.’ Edward Miller in his book, John Wesley The Hero of the Second Reformation (1906) wrote: ‘When the Church fails in her mission, the whole of society becomes corrupt.’ Why is the church losing the very essence of the Great Commission? Why is the church today happy to be walking through the popular and broad way rather than the narrow way? (Matt 7). The narrow way is what makes the church the salt and the light of the world. Keeping Christianity, Christmas and other celebrations a Christ-centred encounters requires personal and corporate steadfast commitment especially from the church’s leadership to God’s Word. It is however, sad, when the church follows the popular culture of the society in order to be relevant, it amounts to vanity, death and decline.
In this great Advent hymn, Charles is ‘reminding us that our longing for Jesus is as old as the human heart.’ It is only God with His Balm in Gilead that can heal the blindness of human heart, love alone can change the will. The text of Charles’ hymn, “Come, Thou long-expected Jesus” reflects the double nature of Advent. In the text, we remember Christ’s first coming even while praying and anticipating His return. Stanza 1 and 2 of the hymn recall Advent prophecies in the Old Testament. Charles in stanza 1 of the hymn points to the coming of Jesus Christ, the “Wonderful Counsellor” “Prince of Peace” fulfilled Israel’s longing for the Messiah (Is 7:14; 9:6, Micah 5:2). Charles’ picture of Jesus in the hymn was beyond the manger experience. It is a call to a personal application, ‘born to set Thy people free from our fears and sins release us…’ For us not to miss the missional meaning that this hymn so lyrically conveys, Charles is reminding us that Jesus is not just an inclusive ‘dear desire of every nation.’ Jesus is exclusive ‘joy of every longing heart … Joy to those who long to see thee…’ Charles’ hymn tells us that Jesus alone is the ONLY ONE Who can satisfy every soul. Jesus came to bring salvation to the entire world. The question for our personal reflection is, is your heart longing after Jesus as your Saviour? Are you longing to see Him in His Second Coming?
Charles’ birthday reminds us of Christian hymns as a missional part of the Christmas and Advent seasons. Charles’ Christian hymns writing as a vehicle of mission and evangelism went ‘hand in hand with the Wesleyan evangelism.’ His hymn based on Christocentric approach to the Bible also ‘connected Christology with redemption and sanctification. Charles’ description of Jesus as “Israel’s strength and consolation” resonates with the story of Simeon, a man of faith who was “looking for the consolation of Israel (Lk 2:22-38).
Charles in stanza 3 of the hymn speaks of Christ’s birth and kingdom. Christ kingdom and glories are eternal. In the last verse of his hymn, Charles goes on to tell us why it is ONLY Jesus who can meet our expectations on earth and in eternity. According to Charles, Jesus was “born a child and yet a King,” born both as God and man, Jesus satisfied ‘God’s wrath completely by dying on the Cross for our sins. Charles described Jesus ability to bring us to salvation based on His “All sufficient merit.” Nothing in this world world will last forever. Only Jesus is born to reign forever. Charles’ hymn reminds us of the picture of resurrection life and greater hope and sufficient merit that is able to ‘raise us to Thy glorious throne.’ Gordon Giles aptly described this resurrection life through the saving work of Christ as ‘a birth certificate into a new realm of resurrection, rest and peace,’ hence ‘a death certificate is not a rubber stamp at the end of life.’
Charles’ hymn calls for personal and corporate repentance, especially in the church. The problem today is that, it is difficult to repent on what you do not believe in. When you take or define sin not as sin but just as an issue or a debate, it is difficult to repent hence, the Church is failing and declining in her mission and ‘the whole society becomes corrupt.” Bearing in mind our doubled population coupled with the expansion of towns and cities, and technology, Charles’ hymn shaped by double nature of Advent calls for a renewing and effective missional instruction of the great masses. Many are not only sleeping but we are snoring in the darkness of this passing age. Many are living by lies that weakens their Christian faith and believe in the double nature of Advent. Rod Dreher in his book, Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents warns against setting aside Christian faith because ‘the subsequent moral decline portends a disastrous future.’ To overturn the kingdom of lies – ‘the lie that gives all the other lies their malign force,’ Dreher calls the church to be counter-cultural.
Charles is calling us to put the double nature of Advent back to the church priority. The grand Wesleyan message offers a full salvation in the double nature of Advent. Jesus is King whether you accept Him or not. Charles’ hymn on the double nature of Advent invites us to acknowledge Jesus as our King and become part of His Kingdom. We can only grow up into Christ’s likeness by submitting to His will and not by adjusting it to fit our pleasure. Is there any area of your soul that is hidden away from King Jesus? Is there any territory in your life, marriage, home, church and nations that you have not let Jesus in. Advent calls us to make full room for King Jesus as we prayerfully sing:
Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth Thou art;
dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.
Joy to those who long to see thee,
Dayspring from on high, appear;
Come, thou promised Rod of Jesse, of thy birth we long to hear!
O’er the hills the angels singing news, glad tidings of a birth;
“Go to him, your praises bringing; Christ the Lord has come to earth.”
Come to earth to taste our sadness, he
whose glories knew no end;
by his life he brings us gladness, our Redeemer, Shepherd, Friend.
Leaving riches without number, born within a cattle stall;
this the everlasting wonder, Christ was born the Lord of all.
Born Thy people to
deliver, born a child, and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever, now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit rule in all our hearts alone;
by Thine own sufficient merit, raise us to Thy glorious throne.