O for a Thousand Tongues
Posted under The Rectory Bulletin | Hymn Stories
Here is yet another hymn to have come from the prolific pen of Charles Wesley. His brother John may be remembered as the founder of Methodism, but Charles influence spread still wider through the words of praise that dripped from his pen. Some six and a half thousand hymns!
This hymn was written to make the eleventh anniversary of an event which changed the lives of the Wesley brothers. When they were sailing for the American colonies for a less than successful mission, the ship was struck by a squall. There was panic, but as John Wesley wrote in his diary there was one group of passengers who seemed unconcerned:
The Germans calmly sung on. I asked one of them afterwards, “Was you not afraid?” He answered, “I thank God, no.” I asked, “But were not your women and children afraid?” He replied, mildly, “No; our women and children are not afraid to die.”
These Germans were Moravian Christians and their warm, trusting faith made a deep impression on the brothers. Once back in England they sought out the Moravians, and on 21st May 1738 Charles came to Christ. In his journal he wrote:
Still I felt a violent opposition and reluctance to believe; yet still the Spirit of God strove with my own and the evil spirit, till by degrees he chased away the darkness of my unbelief. I found myself convinced, I knew not how, nor when; and immediately fell to intercession…
I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoiced in hope of loving Christ. My temper for the rest of the day was, mistrust of my own great, but before unknown, weakness. I saw that by faith I stood; by the continual support of faith, which kept me from falling, though of myself I am ever sinking into sin. I went to bed still sensible of my own weakness, (I humbly hope to be more and more so,) yet confident of Christ's protection.
On the first anniversary of this event, he wrote this hymn after having been inspired by the Moravian Peter Böhler’s comment: “Had I a thousand tongues I would praise Him with them all”.
O for a thousand tongues to sing
my great Redeemer's praise,
the glories of my God and King,
the triumphs of his grace!
My gracious Master and my God,
assist me to proclaim,
to spread thro' all the earth abroad
the honours of your name.
Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
that bids our sorrows cease,
'tis music in the sinner's ears,
'tis life and health and peace.
He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
he sets the prisoner free;
his blood can make the foulest clean;
his blood availed for me.
To God all glory, praise, and love
be now and ever given
by saints below and saints above,
the Church in earth and heaven.