Posted by: rcottrill | July 8, 2011

O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing

Words: Charles Wesley (b. Dec. 18, 1707; d. Mar. 29, 1788)
Music: Azmon, by Carl Gotthelf Glaser (b. May 4, 1784; d. Apr. 16, 1829)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Some of our older hymns have many more stanzas than are commonly found in our hymn books. This is an example, with its eighteen four-line stanzas! All of them can be seen on the Cyber Hymnal link. Most hymnals use CH-1, 2, 3, 4, 7, and occasionally 8.

The idea for the opening stanza came from Charles Wesley’s friend, Peter Bohler, who, in May of 1738, said to him, “Had I a thousand tongues, I would praise Him [Christ] with them all!” Interestingly, the second line originally read, “My dear Redeemer’s praise.” But Charles’s brother John saw “dear” as a romantic expression of human affection, inappropriate for addressing the Almighty. He made the change to “great.”

O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace!

Because this is a hymn of personal testimony and praise to God for Wesley’s own salvation, there are numerous personal references, especially in stanzas no longer used. For example: “His blood availed for me” (CH-4; see also CH-9, 10, 11, 12, 13).

CH-9) On this glad day the glorious sun
Of righteousness arose;
On my benighted soul He shone
And filled it with repose.

CH-12) I felt my Lord’s atoning blood
Close to my soul applied;
Me, me He loved, the Son of God,
For me, for me He died!

In CH-13 and 14, Charles Wesley gives us a clear statement of the biblical theology that had been reemphasized in the Reformation: that we are saved by grace, through personal faith in Christ, and that alone (Isa. 53:6; Jn. 1:29; 3:16; Rom. 1:16; 3:21-26; Eph. 2:8-9; I Jn. 2:2; 5:11-12).

Look unto Him, ye nations, own
Your God, ye fallen race;
Look, and be saved through faith alone,
Be justified by grace.

See all your sins on Jesus laid:
The Lamb of God was slain,
His soul was once an offering made
For every soul of man.

Wesley gets quite specific about some kinds of sin, in CH-16 and 17. But lest we think that he is setting himself above others, notice the last lines of CH-16, below. They are reminiscent of various expressions of humility used by the Apostle Paul: that he was “the least of the apostles…not worthy to be called an apostle” (I Cor. 15:9); and “less than the least of all the saints” (Eph. 3:8); and “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief [i.e. first in rank, meaning the worst of all]” (I Tim. 1:15).

CH-16) Harlots and publicans and thieves
In holy triumph join!
Saved is the sinner that believes
From crimes as great as mine.

CH-17) Murderers and all ye hellish crew
In holy triumph join!
Believe the Saviour died for you;
For me the Saviour died.

Though not all hymnals make use of it (Great Hymns of the Faith does), CH-8 makes a fitting conclusion to this great hymn of praise.

Glory to God, and praise and love
Be ever, ever given,
By saints below and saints above,
The church in earth and heav’n.

1) In spite of Peter Bohler’s wish, we each have only one tongue. What are some practical ways you can be a more effective witness for Christ?

2) What sin in his past did Paul mention frequently (Acts 8:3; 9:1-2; cf. 22:4-5; 26:9-11; Gal. 1:13; Phil. 3:6; I Tim. 1:13)? How do you deal with the memories of past sins of which you are ashamed, even though you know God has forgiven you?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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