Hymn History: “I Want a Principle Within”

2 min

The eighteenth of nineteen children, Charles Wesley was brought up by Godly parents. However, the family’s commitment to follow Christian principles made them unpopular. During the forty years they ministered in the small town of Epworth, England, they encountered cruelty and persecution from the villagers. On various occasions, the villagers threatened to harm the Wesley children, crippled their dog, burned their crops, and injured their cows. The Wesley home was even set afire several times! Despite the persecution, Mr. and Mrs. Wesley remained steadfast in their faith. Their wise responses to such opposition set an example for their children to follow. The children, in turn, influenced others to choose righteousness.

Charles Wesley was well-educated, first by his mother and then during years of formal training at two universities. While returning from a mission trip to the United States, he wondered about his own salvation. Aboard the ship sailing homeward, he met a Christian who spoke to him of assurance of salvation. Soon thereafter, Reverend Wesley experienced peace with Christ when he received assurance of his salvation. A year later, he began preaching across the English countryside. Riding on horseback from town to town, he proclaimed God’s Word in churches and at outdoor public gatherings.

Reverend Wesley preached the Gospel for about eighteen years. He also wrote many hymns, sometimes even while riding a horse! One friend wrote that: 

When [Reverend Wesley] was nearly eighty he rode a little horse. . . . As he jogged leisurely along, he jotted down any thought that struck him. He kept a card in his pocket for this purpose, on which he wrote his hymn . . . .

Writing hymns was a fruitful part of Reverend Wesley’s life. In one hymn he speaks of desiring wisdom, which is “seeing and responding to life’s situations from God’s frame of reference.” The hymn titled “I Want a Principle Within,” describes the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom: 

I want a principle within of watchful, godly fear,
A sensibility of sin, a pain to feel it near.
Help me the first approach to feel
Of pride or wrong desire,
To catch the wand’ring of my will,
And quench the kindling fire. 

Other hymns he wrote include “And Can It Be,” “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” and “O for a Thousand Tongues.” In total, Reverend Wesley authored more than 6,000 songs!

Like Reverend Wesley, may we ask God to give us “a principle within,” a fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom. May we seek God’s insight in His Word and obey the Holy Spirit so that our lives bring God glory!

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