Earthquake Hymns by Charles Wesley

Charles Wesley published two small collections of hymns reflecting on two earthquakes that struck London in 1750.  They weren’t major earthquakes like what has recently struck Japan but they explore various ways of responding to natural disasters – as we wrestle with God’s control and influence of nature and our desire for his protection and peace.

Editors Remarks:

On February 8, 1750, London was hit by a significant, but not catastrophic, earthquake. John Wesley was in London (Charles currently serving in Bristol) and records the event in his Journal. He followed his account with the comment: “How gently does God deal with this nation! O that our repentance may prevent heavier marks of his displeasure!” As this shows, the Wesley brothers shared the common assumption of their time that earthquakes, major storms, disease epidemic and similar events were more than just “accidents of nature.” They were considered to be providential acts—sometimes as expressions of divine protection (thwarting the French fleet) or punishment, but more often (particularly in mild cases like this) as portents to awaken complacent humanity to our spiritual failures and duties.
Exactly one month later, on March 8, Charles Wesley was taking his turn directing the work in London when a second earthquake hit—a stronger shock, but still not catastrophic. The event is noted in Charles’s MS Journal in an unusual way. He gives the date, marked with an asterisk, and then left a full page and a half blank. He obviously intended to insert more detail about the quake at some point, but he never returned to do so. He did, however, send a brief account in a letter to his brother, who was then in Bristol (printed in John’s Journal entry for March 8).
Charles also rushed into print before the end of the month, Hymns occasioned by the Earthquake, March 8, 1750. The hymns emulate the common spirituality, calling for the British populace to acknowledge God’s gracious warning and repent of their sins. But the collection ends with a hymn of reassurance, affirming God’s power to protect God’s people.

Earthquake Hymns, Pt. I (1750)

Earthquake Hymns, Pt. II (1750)

Hymn based on Psalm 46.
1 God, the omnipresent God,
Our strength and refuge stands
Ready to support our load,
And bear us in his hands:
Readiest when we need him most,
When to him distressed we cry,
All who on his mercy trust
Shall find deliverance nigh.

2 Kept by him we scorn to fear
In danger’s blackest day,
Starting at destruction near,
Though nature faint away,
Though the stormy ocean roar,
Though the madding billows rise,
Rage, and foam, and lash the shore,
And mingle earth and skies.
3 Let earth’s inmost center quake,
And shattered nature mourn,
Let the unwieldy mountains shake,
And fall by storms uptorn,
Fall with all their trembling load
Far into the ocean hurled,
Lo! We stand secure in God,
Amidst a ruined world.

4 From the throne of God there springs
A pure and crystal stream,
Life, and peace, and joy it brings
To his Jerusalem:
Rivers of refreshing grace
Through the sacred city flow,
Watering all the hallowed place
Where God resides below.

5 God most merciful, most high,
Doth in his Sion dwell,
Kept by him their10 towers defy
The strength of earth and hell;
Built on her o’ershadowing Rock,
Who shall her foundations move,
Who her great defender shock,
The Almighty God of love,

6 All that on this Rock are stayed
The world assaults in vain,
Ever present with his aid
He shall his own sustain:
Guardian of the chosen race,
Jesus doth his church defend,
Save them by his timely grace,
And save them to the end.

7 Furiously the heathen raged
Against his church below,
Kingdoms all their power engaged
Jerusalem t’ o’erthrow;
Earth from her foundation stirred,
Yawned to swallow up her prey,
Jesus spoke, she owned his word,
And quaked, and fled away.

8 For his people in distress
The God of Jacob stands,
Keeps us, ’till our troubles cease,
In his almighty hands:
He for us his power hath shown,
He doth still our refuge prove;
Loves the Lord of hosts his own,
And shall forever love.

9 Come, behold the Almighty Lord
In robes of vengeance clad;
By the desolating sword
What havoc hath he made!
He hath sent his armies forth,
States and kingdoms to o’erthrow,
Marched in anger through the earth,
And ravaged all below.

10 Lo! Again in tender love
He bids their discords cease,
Calms their spirit from above,
And melts them into peace;
Breaks the bow and burns the car,
Instruments of fatal ill,
Quells the horrid din of war,
And bids the world be still.

11 Sons of men, be still, and know
That I am God alone,
I my saving power will show,
And make my goodness known;
All shall with my will comply,
Fear the name to sinners given,
Bow before the Lord most high,
The Lord of earth and heaven.

12 For his people in distress
The God of Jacob stands,
Bears us, ’till our troubles cease,
In his almighty hands:
He for us his power hath shown,
He doth still our refuge prove,
Loves the Lord of hosts his own,
And shall forever love.

5 thoughts on “Earthquake Hymns by Charles Wesley

Add yours

  1. I marvel at your ability to sift through the multi-floored library of Christian hymnody to find one or two pages that perfectly fit specific occasions. Nice job.

    You must have an iPad app for this, or something.

  2. Here’s an earthquake hymn by John Newton:

    Although on massy pillars built,
    The earth has lately shook;
    It trembled under Britain’s guilt,
    Before its Maker’s look.

    Swift as the shock amazement spreads,
    And sinners tremble too;
    What flight can screen their guilty heads,
    If earth itself pursue.

    But mercy spared us while it warned,
    The shock is felt no more;
    And mercy, now, alas! is scorned
    By sinners, as before.

    But if these warnings prove in vain,
    Say, sinner, canst thou tell,
    How soon the earth may quake again,
    And open wide to hell.

    Repent before the Judge draws nigh;
    Or else when he comes down,
    Thou wilt in vain for earthquakes cry,
    To hide thee from his frown.

    But happy they who love the Lord
    And his salvation know;
    The hope that’s founded on his word,
    No change can overthrow.

    Should the deep-rooted hills be hurled,
    And plunged beneath the seas;
    And strong convulsions shake the world,
    Your hearts may rest in peace.

    Jesus, your Shepherd, Lord, and Chief,
    Shall shelter you from ill;
    And not a worm or shaking leaf
    Can move, but at his will.

    -Olney Hymns, Book 2, Hymn 68

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