This hymn reflects the uncompromising character of the Wesleys, who faced much opposition and persecution in their ministry. Albert E. Bailey gives this account in “The Gospel in Hymns”: “If it was hard on the preachers, it was worse on the converts. They were outrageously treated, stoned, mauled, ducked (held under water), hounded by bulldogs, threatened, homes looted, and businesses ruined. Anyone who walked through a town could pick out, by their ruinous condition, the homes where Methodists lived.”
The Wesleys had much congregational singing in their meetings, believing their hymns would help to convict sinners, encourage the saints, and educate all in the Christian faith. One day in 1762, as Charles was reading Matthew Henry’s commentary on Leviticus 8:35, the phrase “and keep the charge of the LORD” seemed to stand out. The Levitical priests had the responsibility of making sure that everything that took place at the Tabernacle of Israel was in accordance with the word and will of God. He believed that Christians are given a similar charge to keep.
As many of the early hymn-writers did, Charles Wesley wrote a continuing narrative through the stanzas of his hymns, making it important not to omit any stanza. “A Charge to Keep I Have” outlines the challenge given to believers to glorify God, serve the present generation, and do God’s will. The Christian is admonished to be armed with “jealous care” so that an account can be given to God. So then everyone of us shall give account of himself to God.
(Romans 14:12) Watching and praying will teach the believer to rely on God to help him keep the charge given. New England music educator, Lowell Mason, wrote the commonly-used tune “Boylton” in 1832, seventy years later in a country nearly 4,000 miles away!
The hymn calls for full commitment to serve God faithfully. Success is not measured by wealth or fame, but by doing the job God has for the believer, whether great or small. Paul wrote, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14)
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