Charles Wesley wrote songs for sinners. For those who were lost in sin, his hymns promised salvation, and for those who had come to Christ they were hymns that celebrated the day when it happened.
Wesley’s hymns threw out a net that was wide and sure.
Sinners of men, to you I call:
Harlots and publicans and thieves;
He spreads his arms to embrace you all;
Sinners alone his grace receive.
This was not an appeal to the delicate and the spiritually genteel. It was for people who knew they were sinners and who knew they needed a Savior. They recognized that without a Savior they were lost, both in this world and in the world to come.
Such hymns may seem out of place for the twenty-first century world, where outside of a Catholic confessional sins are confessed only in the psychiatrist’s office, and then under synonyms that are rather gratifying intellectually.
These hymns are as true as ever, however, and it is only our spiritual and doctrinal naivete that keeps us from seeing it. John and Charles Wesley were admirably upright persons, yet when they came to the experience of salvation it was with the sense that they were sinners in need of salvation.
That is, they understood that not only did they need salvation from the sins they had committed, but also from the sins of which they were capable and which often they had escaped only because of what Charles Wesley called “sacred cowardice.” It’s a phrase many of us can claim as our own. “Sacred cowardice” has held us back from conduct that our imagination and thought life may have embraced.
I was saved when I was ten years old. I wept much that night at the altar of conversion. My sin life was pretty typical of a ten-year-old who was growing up in a very earnest Christian home. I believe I wept that night not only for the few boyish sins I had thus far committed, but for the capacity of sin that dwelt within me. Only as I grew older did I learn that I was capable of almost any sin, and tempted by a full share of them.
So I’m grateful for hymns that cover not only the sins I have committed but also the sins of which I am capable and which would quite likely be destroying me even now if it were not for the cleansing blood of Christ. I’m glad to sing with Charles Wesley, “Plenteous grace with Thee is found, / Grace to cover all my sin; / Let the healing streams abound; / Make and keep me pure within.”
This is a Gospel worth proclaiming and worth singing. It’s a message we need quite desperately in our confused time and culture.