Come, Holy Ghost, thine influence shed,
And realise the sign;
Thy life infuse into the bread,
Thy power into the wine.
Effectual let thy tokens prove
And made, by heavenly art,
Fit channels to convey thy love
To every faithful heart.
Charles Wesley’s hymn ‘Come, Holy Ghost, thine influence shed’ was included in his Hymns on the Lord’s Supper (1745). This is an important collection in several ways, not least in terms of the breadth of Charles Wesley’s writing that it represents. Alongside the hymns that speak powerfully of religious conversion and the evangelical imperative, and those that provide a robust and overt declaration of the Wesleys’ brand of Arminianism, it serves as an important reminder of Wesley as a liturgical hymn writer. It contains hymns that explore many aspects of the Eucharist and which meditate upon the sacrificial nature of the sacrament. Alongside his many collections of seasonal hymns, it reveals a writer deeply embedded in the liturgical life of the Church of England, as well as a theologian with a remarkable breadth of knowledge and understanding.
This short hymn, just two four-line verses in Common Metre, takes the form of an epiclesis in verse. This is unusual in itself, but all the more so given the absence of such an invocation in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer that would have been so integral to Wesley’s life and ministry. The sole focus on the Holy Spirit makes Cranmer’s 1549 epiclesis – ‘with thy Holy Spirit and word…’ – an unlikely source, and it is more probable that the hymn is a result of Wesley’s knowledge of eastern Orthodox liturgies. His use of the verb infuse is especially striking; its sense of both activity and completeness testify to the centrality of the sacrament in Wesley’s spirituality, which is confirmed in the second verse.
Dr Martin Clarke is Lecturer and Director of Teaching in Music at the Open University