Few persons would think of going to the verbose Commentary of Matthew Henry for the elements of poetry; but the genius of Charles Wesley, like the fabled philosopher's stone, could turn everything to gold. Some of his eminently beautiful hymns, strange as it may appear, are poetic versions of Henry's expository notes. One specimen may be given. The Commentator, explaining the name of God, as it was given to Moses, and recorded in Exodus xxxiv. 6, 7, says, --"(1.) He is merciful. This bespeaks his tender compassion, like that of a father to his children. This is put first, because it is the first wheel in all the instances of God's good-will to fallen man, whose misery makes him an object of pity, Judg. x. 16; Isa. lxiii. 9. Let us not then have either hard thoughts of God or hard hearts towards our brethren. (2.) He is gracious. This bespeaks both freeness and kindness; it intimates not only that he has a compassion to his creatures, but a complacency in them and in doing good to them, and this of his own good-will, and not for the sake of any thing in them. His mercy is grace, free grace; this teaches us to be not only pitiful, but courteous, 1 Pet. iii. 8. (3.) He is long-suffering. This is a branch of God's goodness which the wickedness of sinners gives occasion for; that of Israel had done so: they had tried his patience, and experienced it. He is long-suffering, that is, he is slow to anger, and delays the execution of his justice; he waits to be gracious, and lengthens out the offers of his mercy. (4.) He is abundant in goodness and truth. This bespeaks plentiful goodness, goodness abounding above our deserts, above our conception and expression. The springs of mercy are always full, the streams of mercy always flowing; there is mercy enough in God, enough for all, enough for each, enough for ever. It bespeaks promised goodness, goodness and truth put together, goodness engaged by promise, and his faithfulness pledged for the security of it. He not only does good, but by his promise he raises our expectation of it, and even binds himself to show mercy. (5.) He keepeth mercy for thousands. This denotes, [1.] Mercy extended to thousands of persons. When he gives to some, still he keeps for others, and is never exhausted; he has mercy enough for all the thousands of Israel, when they shall multiply as the sand. [2.] Mercy entailed upon thousands of generations, even those upon whom the ends of the world have come; nay, the line of it is drawn parallel with that of eternity itself. (6.) He for giveth iniquity, transgression, and sin. Pardoning mercy is specified, because in this divine grace is most magnified, and because in this divine grace is most magnified, and because it is this which opens the door to all other gifts of his divine grace, and because of this he had lately given a very pregnant proof. He forgives offences of all sorts—iniquity, transgression, and sin, multiplies his pardons; and with him is plenteous redemption."
The valuable sentiments thus expressed in humble prose Mr. Charles Wesley embodies in elegant and energetic verse. He sings in the full exercise of faith, and of adoring gratitude; and millions of hearts and voices still unite in the same hallowed strain: --Merciful God, thyself proclaim
In this polluted breast;
Mercy is thy distinguish'd name,
Which suits a sinner best:
Our misery doth for pity call,
Our sin implores thy grace;
And thou art merciful to all
Our lost, apostate race.
Thy causeless, unexhausted love,
Unmerited and free,
Delights our evil to remove,
And help our misery:
Thou waitest to be gracious still,
Thou dost with sinners bear,
That saved we may thy goodness feel,
And all thy grace declare.
Thy goodness and thy truth to me,
To every soul, abound,
A vast, unfathomable sea,
Where all our thoughts are drown'd:
Its streams the whole creation reach,
So plenteous is the store,
Enough for all, enough for each,
Enough for evermore.
Faithful, O Lord, thy mercies are,
A rock that cannot move;
A thousand promises declare
Thy constancy of love:
Throughout the universe it reigns,
And while the truth of God remains,
The goodness must endure.
Reserves of unexhausted grace
Are treasured up in thee,
For myriads of the fallen race,
For all mankind, and me.
The flowing stream continues full,
Till time its course hath run;
And while eternal ages roll
Thy mercy shall flow on.
Merciful God, long-suffering, kind,
To me thy name is show'd;
But sinners most exult to find,
Thou art a pardoning God.
Our sins in deed, and word, and thought,
Thou freely dost forgive;
For us thou by thy blood hast bought,
And died that I might live.
Erik Routley & Paul Akers Richardson, A Panorama of Christian Hymnody, p. 69:
71 A Charge to Keep I Have
A charge to keep I have,
a God to glorify,
a never-dying soul to save
and fit it for the sky;
to serve the present age,
my calling to fulfill:
O may it all my powers engage
to do my Master's will.
Arm me with jealous care
as in thy sight to live,
and O! thy servant, Lord, prepare
a strict account to give.
Help me to watch and pray,
and on thyself rely,
assured, if I my trust betray,
I shall for ever die.
Short Hymns on Select Passages of Scripture, 1762
based on Matthew Henry's Commentary, 1700, Leviticus 8:35:
We have every one of us a charge to keep, an eternal God to glorify, an immortal soul to provide for, needful duty to be done, our generation to serve; and it must be our daily care to keep this charge, for it is the charge of the Lord our Master, who will shortly call us to account about it, and it is at our utmost peril if we neglect it. Keep it, "that ye die not"; it is death, eternal death, to betray the truth we are charged with.
Charles Wesley, Preface to Short Hymns on Select Passages of Scripture:
God, having graciously laid His hand upon my body, and disabled me for the principal work o fthe ministry, has thereby given me an unexpected occasion of writing the following hymns. Many of the thoughts are borrowed from Mr. Henry's Comment, Dr. [Robert] Gell on the Pentateuch, and Bengelius [Johann Albrecht Bengel] on the New Testament.