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Bruce Hindmarsh


And Can It Be?

Charles Wesley gets his turn.

I look out my office window in Vancouver at a mountain that appears singular and imposing. From experience, though, I know that if you drive up that mountain, you will find that it distinguishes itself into two equally impressive peaks. In fact, the bowl-shaped depression between them will be the site of some of the events for the Winter Olympics in 2010. Yet we still speak of it in Vancouver as one "mountain."

So have the brothers John and Charles Wesley been seen by later generations. Founders of Methodism, and key figures in the 18th-century evangelical revival in Britain, they appear from a distance as a kind of hyphenated compound: John-and-Charles-Wesley. One mountain. If we distinguish the two at all, it is John Wesley plus a hymn-writing sidekick. Charles Wesley is just John Wesley in rhyme. Maybe we even unconsciously see the Wesleys as an 18th-century version of the later evangelistic teams in American revivalism: preacher plus songleader, sort of like Moody and Sankey, or Billy Graham and Cliff Barrows. But does it really matter where you put that tiny little apostrophe, anyhow? Wesley's theology, or the Wesleys' theology?

It does matter.The tercentenary of the birth of Charles Wesley (1707-88) saw the publication of a number of fine books on the younger evangelist that have begun to distinguish him clearly so that he stands out in his own right, no longer elided into the towering figure of his brother John (1703-91). The result is that we can see two mountains now, and sometimes even a wide gap between them.

These publications mark the culmination of a renewed scholarly interest in the younger evangelist that has gathered pace over the past two decades, especially since the founding of the Charles Wesley Society in 1990. This scholarship is founded in the first instance on getting the primary texts right and getting them out there. For those of us who have sung "And Can It Be?" or "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" for as long as we can remember, it is hard ...

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