Assist Me to Proclaim: The Life and Hymns of Charles Wesley

Author: John R. Tyson     ISBN: 0802829392
Reviewed by Ron Bechtel

This is a book both for the church musician and for the pastor/theologian. John Tyson, professor of theology at Houghton College, Houghton, New York, weaves an interesting tale of Methodism’s poet laureate, Charles Wesley, through the tapestry of eighteenth century English Protestantism. The narrative abounds with biographical anecdotes that capture the reader’s interest all the way through the book’s 300-pages. The author conveys his keen interest in the thoughts and feelings of Wesley’s spiritual life, from his deep struggles prior to conversion to the lifelong longings to live obediently and submissively to the will of God. For those who like a little romance, Tyson freely serves up one story after another, both of Charles’ years of single life during which he enjoyed the pure and sweet friendship of two Christian women to the time when finally a third one, Sally, captured his heart and they married. For the church musician whose duty it is to know and select hymns for the public worship, there’s a collection of poems on just about every subject or occasion the biographer considers in Wesley’s life. (Did Wesley actually think in verse rather than prose? Poems abounded from Wesley’s pen on his own spiritual state.(“Thou God of glorious majesty, To thee against myself, to Thee a worm of earth I cry…”), his wonder at God’s immense grace (“And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Saviour’s blood?”), and many more. The pastor/theologian will find this biography useful as a summary of theological questions that factioned Christians into opposing camps in eighteenth century England. The contrasting views (Calvinistic) of George Whitefield with both Charles Wesley and John Wesley (Arminian) take a prominent place in public ministries of both camps. The author does not sugarcoat the real troubles between Christians in that day, including the large tensions between Charles and John, and their impact upon the public. How these and other Christian leaders handled the theological controversies provides instructive reading for ministry professionals today. If this is not a must-read for the church musician or pastor, it is at least a singly helpful volume to illuminate one’s understanding about a significant period of theological and church worship developments within Christian church history