Did Charles not know his Wesleyan theology?

Would we argue that Charles Wesley had bad atonement theology?

I take it that many contemporary Christians and theologians resist the idea that Jesus’ death on the cross satisfied or turned back the wrath of God. It is not uncommon for this to be represented as something that neo-Calvinists or Baptists might say, but not we grace-oriented Methodists.

If so, have we written Charles Wesley out of our camp? I guess in one sense we have. Here are a couple verses from two of his hymns that are not in our hymnal.

A verse from “And Can It Be” that we don’t sing:

Still the small inward voice I hear,
That whispers all my sins forgiven;
Still the atoning blood is near,
That quenched the wrath of hostile Heaven.
I feel the life His wounds impart;
I feel the Savior in my heart.
I feel the life His wounds impart;
I feel the Savior in my heart.

A verse from “Depth of Mercy” not in our Hymnal:

Jesus speaks, and pleads His blood!
He disarms the wrath of God;
Now my Father’s mercies move,
Justice lingers into love.

I’ve not done a systematic study of Charles Wesley hymns. These were the first two I looked at when doing something else, and I was struck by the selection, which in both cases, dropped this kind of language. Could it be that Methodists think we reject a satisfaction model of atonement because we have purposely edited out such views from our own sung theology? I understand that there are various ways of comprehending the atonement. When, though, did we decide that Charles Wesley did not understand Wesleyan theology?

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The heart of Methodism in 16 lines

If you want a concise summary of Wesleyan theology, read the lyrics to Charles Wesley’s “Let Us Plead for Faith Alone.”

Let us plead for faith alone
Faith which by our works is shown;
God it is Who justifies,
Only faith the grace applies.

Active faith that lives within,
Conquers hell and death and sin,
Hallows whom it first made whole,
Forms the Savior in the soul.

Let us for this faith contend,
Sure salvation is the end;
Heaven already is begun,
Everlasting life is won.

Only let us persevere
Till we see our Lord appear,
Never from the Rock remove,
Saved by faith which works by love.

Every line of this hymn is packed with points of Wesleyan emphasis. You get free grace. You get the faith-works linkage. You get God’s agency and our response. You get the overcoming of sin and the distinction between justification and sanctification. You get the need to work out our salvation and persevere to the end. You get present salvation and eternal life. And you get the overall focus on the saving of our own souls that was the heart of Wesleyan preaching and practice.

I’m not a huge fan of the standard tune that this hymn is set to in our hymnal. I do find the words of this hymn to be a wonderful gift to Methodism and the wider church.

Charles Wesley’s letters decoded

An interesting story about the mundane and spiritual life of Charles Wesley.

And a new book to buy, too.