st. 2 = Phil. 2:7-8
st. 3 = Acts 12: 6-8, Acts 16:25-26
st. 4 = Rom. 8:1, Heb. 4:16
In a compact poetic manner, this text exclaims the mystery of God's grace extended to sinners who turn to Christ in faith. These sinners receive the righteousness of Christ and can approach the Lord's throne in confidence. Such is the amazing love of God in Christ! Charles Wesley (b. Epworth, Lincolnshire, England, 1707; d. Marylebone, London, England, 1788) wrote his powerful and joyful hymn text in 1738 in the days immediately following his conversion to belief in Christ (May 21); he sang it with his brother John (b. Epworth, 1703; d. London, 1791) shortly after John's "Aldersgate experience."
"And Can It Be" was first published in John Wesley's Psalms and Hymns (1738). It is subtitled "Free Grace" in John and Charles Wesley's Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739). Traditionally one of the great hymns of Methodism, this text appears in a number of modern hymnals.
Like so many of Charles Wesley's hymn texts, "And Can It Be" is full of allusions to and quotations from Scripture; a few of the more obvious texts are Philippians 2:7, Acts 12:6-8, Romans 8:1, and Hebrews 4:16. Wesley's use of metaphors is also noteworthy – he deftly contrasts light and darkness, life and death, slavery and freedom, and especially Christ's righteousness and our unrighteousness.
Service of confession and forgiveness; adult baptism; in conjunction with doctrinal preaching; many other occasions.
Several members of the Wesley family are significant figures in the history of English hymnody, and none more so than Charles Wesley. Charles was the eighteenth child of Samuel and Susanna Wesley, who educated him when he was young. After attending Westminster School, he studied at Christ Church College, Oxford. It was there that he and George Whitefield formed the Oxford "Holy Club," which Wesley's brother John soon joined. Their purpose was to study the Bible in a disciplined manner, to improve Christian worship and the celebration of the Lord's Supper, and to help the needy. Because of their methods for observing the Christian life, they earned the name “Methodists.”
Charles Wesley was ordained a minister in the Church of England in 1735 but found spiritual conditions in the church deplorable. Charles and John served briefly as missionaries to the British colony in Georgia. Enroute they came upon a group of Moravian missionaries, whose spirituality impressed the Wesleys. They returned to England, and, strongly influenced by the ministry of the Moravians, both Charles and John had conversion experiences in 1738 (see more on this below). The brothers began preaching at revival meetings, often outdoors. These meetings were pivotal in the mid-eighteenth-century "Great Awakening" in England.
Though neither Charles nor John Wesley ever left the Church of England themselves, they are the founders of Methodism. Charles wrote some sixty-five hundred hymns, which were published in sixty-four volumes during his lifetime; these include Collection of Psalms and Hymns (1741), Hymns on the Lord's Supper ( 1 745), Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1753), and Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People called Methodists (1780). Charles's hymns are famous for their frequent quotations and allusions from the Bible, for their creedal orthodoxy and their subjective expression of Christian living, and for their use of some forty-five different meters, which inspired new hymn tunes in England. Numerous hymn texts by Wesley are standard entries in most modern hymnals; fourteen are included in the Psalter Hymnal.
Charles's elder brother John also studied at Christ Church College, Oxford, and was ordained a priest in the Church of England in 1728. A tutor at Lincoln College in Oxford from 1729 to 1735, Wesley became the leader of the Oxford "Holy Club" mentioned above. After his contact with the Moravian missionaries, Wesley began translating Moravian hymns from German and published his first hymnal, Collection of Psalms and Hymns, in Charleston, South Carolina (1737); this hymnal was the first English hymnal ever published for use in worship.
Upon his return to England in 1738 Wesley "felt his heart strangely warmed" at a meeting on Aldersgate Street, London, when Peter Bohler, a Moravian, read from Martin Luther's preface to his commentary on the epistle to the Romans. It was at that meeting that John received the assurance that Christ had truly taken away his sins. That conversion experience (followed a few days later by a similar experience by his brother Charles) led to his becoming the great itinerant evangelist and administrator of the Methodist "societies," which would eventually become the Methodist Church. An Anglican all his life, John Wesley wished to reform the Church of England and regretted the need to found a new denomination.
Most of the hymnals he prepared with his brother Charles were intended for Christians in all denominations; their Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People called Methodists (1780) is one of the few specifically so designated. John was not only a great preacher and organizer, he was also a prolific author, editor, and translator. He translated many classic texts, wrote grammars and dictionaries, and edited the works of John Bunyan and Richard Baxter. In hymnody he is best known for his translation of selections from the German hymnals of Johann Crüger ('Jesus, thy boundless love to me"), Freylinghausen, and von Zinzendorf ('Jesus, thy blood and righteousness"), and for his famous "Directions for Singing," which are still printed in Methodist hymnals. Most significant, however, is his well-known strong hand in editing and often strengthening his brother Charles's hymn texts before they copublished them in their numerous hymnals.
--Psalter Hymnal Handbook