Berean Bible Heritage Church
January 18, 2018; 11:38 pm
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Samuel Wesley

by Pastor Clinton Macomber, rewritten May 2007

There were several Samuel Wesley’s all involved in poetry and music, so identifying them can be somewhat confusing! The following are the main ones:

Samuel Wesley, Sr.

This is the father of the famous Charles and John Wesley brothers. He was a poet of very controversial verse. He was born December 17, 1662 and died on April 5, 1735. He is the Wesley that removed the “t” from their last name changing it from Westley to Wesley. He was also a descended of a line of clergymen.

A sample of his poetry is this clipping:

Style is the dress of thought; a modest dress,
Neat, but not gaudy, will true critics please.

Samuel Wesley, Jr.

This Samuel was a brother of the famous John and Charles Wesley. Samuel was an accomplished organist and composer.

Samuel Wesley

Samuel Wesley

On February 24, 1766, Samuel Wesley, the famous English church organist, was born in Bristol. He was the son of Charles Wesley, and one of three children who survived of eight born to Charles' first wife. The other five children had been farmed out to nurses, but their own mother nursed the three who lived.

At three years of age he played the organ, and at eight composed an oratorio called Ruth.

Samuel's older brother was Charles, Jr. They both were famous child prodigies on the organ. Charles, Jr. was the more notable organist in their youth, but Samuel took over the notoriety in adulthood. The Wesley's knew the famous musicians of the day like Haydn and Mozart. Samuel heard many stories from older relatives of their meetings with Handel.

He was one of the first in England to appreciate Johann Sebastian Bach, and in doing so, named his own namesake after Bach by using his middle name. He edited Bach’s music and played it on the organ. He is called the father of the modern organists, and left behind a large volume of musical manuscripts. Those that heard this dignified but diminutive man play say that although there have been many great organists, none of them come close to being able to move the listener as “Old Sam” did.

He found the ecclesiastical authorities to be tightwads with the funds they were given and unappreciative of the value of sacred music, as did his son.

In family records, this Samuel is known as "Samuel4" and his illegitimate son (he believed his marriage was consummated and hence did not require a civil or religious ceremony, but did later officially marry the mother of his child, but Samuel Sebastian carries the title of being illegitimate), "Samuel5" to distinguish the 5 generations of Samuel Wesley’s. "Samuel5" is otherwise known as Samuel Sebastian Wesley. 

He died October 11, 1837.

Samuel Sebastian Wesley

Samuel S. Wesley

This was the grandson of Charles Wesley, and one that gets confused with his father, Samuel, the son of Charles Wesley. He was a popular musician, who drowned out the memory of his father, performing the more popular and secular works. He was born on August 14, 1810 in London, earned a Doctorate in Music from Oxford when only 29 years old, and died in Gloucester on April 19, 1876. He was a composer and organist of several cathedrals: Hereford (1832–5), Exeter (1835–42), Leeds (1842–9), Winchester (1849–65), and Gloucester (1865–76). However, like his dad, he found the ecclesiastical leaders of his day a real hindrance to sacred music. In 1849 he put out a publication about their indifference toward the music ministry of their churches. He did not live to see the reforms that his publication eventually brought.

He wrote some of the finest church music, and his work has seen a revival in interest today. Of particular interest is his beautiful music used with “The Church’s One Foundation” a very worshipful and stately hymn tune, used as well with "My High Tower." He also wrote the well known tune for “Jerusalem the Golden,” a melodious hymn tune of praise.

  • “The Church's One Foundation,” music
  • “Jerusalem the Golden,” music
  • My High Tower,” music


The original sources were lost, and so some parts were deleted. Sources used in rewriting this are as follows:

Samuel Sabastian Wesley's Photo is from the Cyberhymnal Website:

F.L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. rev. (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 1740.

George Thomas Kurian, Editor. Nelson's New Christian Dictionary: The Authoritative Resource on the Christian World (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson Pubs., 2001), “Wesley, Samuel Sebastian.”

J.B.MacMillan. Editors: J.D. Douglas, Philip Wesley Comfort and Donald Mitchell, Who's Who in Christian History (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1997, c1992), “Wesley, Samuel Sebastian.”

Kenneth W. Osbeck, 101 Hymn Stories (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 1982), p. 244.

Samuel Wesley, Collins Quotation Finder, electronic ed. (Glasgow: HarperCollins, 2000, c1999), p. 641, from ‘An Epistle to a Friend concerning Poetry’ (1700).

Last updated Saturday, October 10, 2009 4:48 PM PST

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