Text: Charles Wesley (1707-1788). Tune: arr. Lowell Mason (1792-1872)
1 O for a thousand tongues to sing My great Redeemer's praise, The glories of my God and King, The triumphs of his grace!
2 My gracious Master and my God, Assist me to proclaim, To spread thro' all the earth abroad The honors of your name.
3 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.
4 He breaks the power of cancelled sin, He sets the prisoner free; His blood can make the foulest clean; His blood availed for me.
5 To God all glory, praise, and love Be now and ever given By saints below and saints above, The Church in earth and heaven.
MEDITATION This joyful hymn of praise came to Charles Wesley in 1739 on the first anniversary of his conversion in May 1738. The Wesleys, recently back from their disastrous missionary journey to Georgia, were in need of spiritual counsel. They found it with the Moravians in London. They had traveled to Georgia with a group of Moravians and had been impressed by their hymnody and their faith. Charles was suffering pleurisy, and was receiving care from Boehler, the head of the Moravian community in London. Boehler was also giving Charles and his brother John, spiritual counsel. Charles was reading Martin Luther's commentary on Galatians and had an enlightenment. After struggling in prayer, he wrote, "I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoice in hope of loving Christ." Grateful for this renewal of faith, one year later, in 1739, he wrote this hymn, after hearing from Boehler that he wished he had a thousand tongues to praise his Lord. Boehler was quoting an old German hymn,
"O dass ich tausen Zungen hätte."
Wesley began writing and came up with an eighteen stanza hymn, the seventh stanza of which began, "O for a thousand tongues.” That became the opening stanza as it was shortened over the generations. The hymn became the signature hymn of Methodism and still is.
Charles and John rode all through the British Isles preaching. Charles estimated that in the years between 1739-1743 he had preached to 149,400 people. Several times he preached to crowds of ten thousand, and once a group of twenty thousand, all the time writing hymns
There are a couple of tunes for this, but this one is the preferred one in America. Many have noted that while Methodists were against dancing, their tunes danced. One hears in this tune a sprightly call to move one’s body in rhythm with the hymn. Without a doubt, one had to stand. Thousands of people would gather outside the church, sometimes in fields, in streets, and begin singing these hymns which in turn attracted many others. One thinks how the preaching of both Wesley's and the hymns of Charles, especially, changed England. This joyful hymn, filled with the almost inexpressible need to praise God, was sung by many a new Christian who, having heard the gospel, rose up to sing Wesley's joyful song of thanks for their new lives!
When I was serving as a consultant for the United Methodist Hymnal in the 1980s, the question of Wesley’s huge corpus was treated with reverence, but also dismay. He had written 8989 hymns, many of which were keepers, among them many favorites well known and loved by Methodists and many others. Without doubt the most prolific and the best hymn writer in English. Which ones should be used? How could they leave out most of them? It would not do to have a hymnal of only Wesley’s hymns. There were hundreds of other favorite hymns that people would also want in the hymnal. A committee was created to deal with that issue so the larger committee did not have to, but one did not envy them. A huge task! One non-negotiable however was that no Wesleyan hymnal could be published without this hymn as the first one. It had been the first hymn in their 1780 Collection of Hymns for the People Called Methodists. The tradition continued until recently.
Lowell Mason, America’s great hymn composer and arranger, took a tune and
reworked it into the tune we have now. Although Mason's star has somewhat dimmed in church music because he so vigorously opposed the Sacred Harp tradition as primitive, it is impossible to imagine 19th century American hymnody without his work. He loved to name the hymn tunes with obscure biblical names, this one a town named in Joshua 15:4.
LINKS Grace Community church, Sun Valley CA https://youtu.be/nx0rCabJ16c
Grace Community church https://youtu.be/C1YPmQibTRw
Organ Fantasia on the tune https://youtu.be/x50kuRfaWH8
The Hymn Club https://youtu.be/4O9kw3cILpg