I’m in Ohio at my denominational convention, but I’m a little distracted by a writing deadline and by sermon preperation. Here’s a story I was working on tonight. It’s about the very last of the 9000 hymns that came from the pen of Charles Wesley, the Sweet Singer of Methodism.
Charles started writing verses immediately upon his conversion and during his lifetime he composed nearly 9,000 hymns—probably more than anyone else in history. His associate, Henry Moore, described him this way: “When he was nearly eighty he rode a little horse, grey with age…. Even in the height of summer he was dressed in winter clothes. As he jogged leisurely along, he jotted down any thoughts that struck him. He kept a card in his pocket for this purpose, on which he wrote his hymn in shorthand. Not infrequently he has come to our house in City Road, and, having left the pony in the garden in front, he would enter, crying out, ‘Pen and ink! Pen and ink!’ These being supplied he wrote the hymn he had been composing.”
Despite the incredible quantity of his hymns, there remained a depth of quality that astounds us today, with hymns like: “And Can it Be,” “O, For a Thousand Tongues,” “Rejoice the Lord is King,” the Easter anthem “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” and the Christmas carol “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” In addition, Charles joined his brother John in traveling from one end of Britain to the other as open-air evangelists and as founders of the Methodist movement.
Charles’ last hymn was composed on Saturday, March 29, 1788, the day he died.
In January of that year, he’d found himself too weak for even short rides. In February, he’d been confined to bed. He was in no pain and showed no signs of specific illness; he was just worn out physically. On March 29, he composed this one-verse hymn, “In Age and Feebleness Extreme,” and, too weak to write it down, dictated it to his wife Sally. He slipped into unconsciousness. As his daughter Sarah held his hand, the great Charles Wesley caught a smile from God and dropped into eternity.
In age and feebleness extreme,
Who shall a helpless worm redeem?
Jesus, my only hope Thou art,
Strength of my failing flesh and heart:
O could I catch one smile from Thee,
And drop into eternity!