Charles Wesley’s Hymn of Intercession for Arabs

Chris Fenner — February 27, 2017

In 1758, Charles Wesley published a series of hymns aimed at helping believers pray and sing for the salvation and benevolence of a wide array of people. He and John encouraged their followers to devote time every week to intercessory prayer (usually Fridays at noon). Hymns of Intercession for All Mankind includes texts for Catholics, Anglicans, British citizens, politicians, nobility, military personnel, children, widows, and many others. The scope and organization of the collection would make a suitable prayer guide for many Christians. The most famous of these hymns is “Lo! He comes with clouds descending,” a hymn of expectation for the victorious Christ, including a call for all people to worship the eternal King (“Yea, amen! Let all adore thee, high on thine eternal throne”).

Among the intercessions is a curious hymn designated “For the Turks,” beginning “Sun of unclouded righteousness.” Even in 1758, people of Arab descent (with Islam implicitly in mind) were feared by Protestants as militaristic marauders, a stereotype that persists in our own time. The most striking language unfolds in the second stanza:

The smoke of the infernal cave,
Which half the Christian world o’erspread,
Disperse Thou heavenly light, and save
The souls by that Imposter led,
That Arab-Thief, as Satan bold,
Who quite destroy’d thine Asian fold.

In retrospect, and even in our modern context, Wesley’s characterization of Arabs as thieves and agents of Satan is unhelpful and does little to engender meaningful dialogue between Christians and Muslims. If anything, this hymn inspires fear rather than evangelistic concern and exposes our society’s persistently narrow view of this people group. This certainly is not a text that a Christian would want to share with a Muslim acquaintance (or share with anyone for that matter), and is thus a sore spot in an otherwise thoughtful collection.

Even so, it begs the question of whether any suitable hymns exist that a Christian could use to encourage prayer for the salvation of Muslims and Middle Eastern people groups. A modern worshiper might consider William Reid’s “O God of every nation” (1958), a hymn that speaks to hatred, fear, and division in our world, or perhaps Emily Brink’s “When asked, who is my neighbor?” (2012), a question with an important response: “the one in need of mercy, both near and far away.”

Incidentally, the first hymn in Wesley’s leaflet goes a long way toward helping us view the Muslim religion and its militant offshoots in light of the broader rebellion of all people, and it expresses our need to consider all forms of human suffering with mournful prayer:

For All Mankind

Let God, who comforts the distressed,
Let Israel’s consolation hear,
Hear Holy Ghost our joint request,
And show thyself the Comforter,
And swell th’inexplicable groan,
And breathe our wishes to the throne.

We weep with those that weep below,
And burdoned for th’afflicted sigh:
The various scenes of human woe
Excite our softest sympathy,
Fill every heart with mournful care,
And draw out all our souls in prayer.

We wrestle for the ruined race,
By sin eternally undone,
Unless Thou magnify thy grace
And make thy richest mercy known,
And make thy vanquished rebels find
Pardon in Christ for all mankind.

Father of everlasting love,
To every soul thy Son reveal,
Our guilt and suffering to reveal,
Our deep original wound to heal,
And bid the fallen race arise,
And turn our earth to Paradise.

–Charles Wesley, 1758

Chris Fenner is a Music & Media Archivist at Boyce Centennial Library.

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