"Keeping the Hymns Close By"
O for a Thousand Tongues
– Charles Wesley, 1707 - 1788
– Carl G. Glaser, 1784 - 1829
Psalm 150:6 – Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord.
John and Charles Wesley were students at Oxford University. Upon graduation the young brothers were sent to America by the Anglican Church to help stabilize the religious climate of the Georgia Colonies and to evangelize the Indians.
On board ship as they crossed the Atlantic, the Wesley brothers came into contact with a group of German Moravians, a small evangelical group known for missionary concern and enthusiastic hymn singing. John Wesley was so impressed with these people that he eventually made a detailed study of the hymnal used in their home church in Hernhut, Germany. Between 1737 and 1786 the Wesleys published between them sixty-three hymnals, with many hymns of Moravian background.
Following a short and unsuccessful ministry in America, the disillusioned Wesleys returned to England, where once again they came under the influence of a group of devout Moravian believers meeting in Aldersgate, London. In May, 1738, both of these brothers realized that though they had been zealous in the Church’s ministry neither had personally accepted Christ as Savior nor had known the joy of their religious faith as did their Moravian friends. From that time, the Wesleys’ ministry took on a new dimension and power.
Both John and Charles usually worked fifteen to eighteen hours each day. It is estimated that they traveled a quarter of a million miles throughout Great Britain, mostly on horseback, while conducting more than 40,000 public services. Charles alone wrote no less than 6,500 hymn texts.
“O for a Thousand Tongues” was written in 1739 on the occasion of Charles’ first anniversary of his own Aldersgate conversion experience. It is thought to have been inspired by a chance remark by Peter Bohler, a Moravian leader, who exclaimed, “Had I a thousand tongues, I would praise Christ Jesus with all of them.” The hymn originally had nineteen stanzas and when published was entitled, “For the Anniversary Day of One’s Conversion.” Most of the verses, no longer used, dealt in a very personal way with Wesley’s own conversion experience. Most of the verses, no longer used, dealt in a very personal way with Wesley’s own conversion experience. For example, “Me, me He loved – the Son of God – for me, for me He died. The stanza that be¬gins “O for a thou¬sand tongues to sing” is verse seven of Wes¬ley’s orig¬in¬al po¬em.
Charles Wesley died on March 29, 1788, having spent over fifty years in the service of the Lord he loved so intimately and served so effectively. Even as he lay on his death bed, it is said that he dictated a final hymn of praise to his wife.
Other hymns by Charles Wesley include, “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” (April 2014 Hymn of the Month), “Jesus Lover of My Soul”, and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”.
Taken from 101 Hymn Stories Copyright © 1982, 2012 by Kenneth W. Osbeck. Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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