Charles Wesley and the construction of suffering in early English Methodism
Wesleyan Methodist Church
history and criticism
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AbstractDeposited with permssion of the author. © 2006 Dr. Joanna Cruickshank
This work examines the construction of suffering in the hymns of Charles Wesley, co-founder of the Methodist movement. Wesley wrote thousands of hymns, many of which focus on the experience of overwhelming pain. As eighteenth-century men and women sang or read Wesley's hymns, they were encouraged to adopt a distinctive approach to suffering, one which drew on long-standing elen1ents within Christian tradition as well as new patterns in eighteenth-century English culture. Identifying the construction of suffering in the hymns illuminates the culture of early Methodism and its complex relationship to its eighteenth century English context. My analysis places the hymns within the broader ‘narrative culture’ of early Methodism, which encouraged individuals to interpret their lives and experiences within a story of great spiritual significance. The hymns engaged men and women with a spiritual drama of conviction, conversion, sanctification and heavenly reward. I argue that suffering was central to Wesley's depiction of this drama. I examine his construction of the suffering of Christ, the suffering of Christians and of Christian responses to the suffering of others, den10nstrating that each of these had an important place in his depiction of the normative Christian experience. Those who read or sang the hymns were exhorted to embrace and endure suffering as an experience that offered opportunities for intill1acy with, and imitation of, Christ. Recognising Wesley's construction of suffering does not explain exactly how Methodist men and Women responded to affliction, but it does illuminate their responses. I explore the implications of Wesley's construction of suffering for early Methodist understandings of the self, spirituality, charity and gender, as well as specific kinds of pain such as childbirth and bereavement. These understandings contributed to a Methodist identity that was both related to, and distinct from, the eighteenth-century English culture in which the hymns were written.
Cruickshank, J. (2006). Charles Wesley and the construction of suffering in early English Methodism, PhD thesis, Department of History, The University of Melbourne.