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 through all the earth abroad
the honors of thy 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 canceled sin,
he sets the prisoner free;
his blood can make the foulest clean;
his blood availed for me.
Hear him, ye deaf; his praise, ye dumb,
your loosened tongues employ;
ye blind, behold your savior come,
and leap, ye lame, for joy.
In preparing for Hymns Alive this week, I came across this neat story behind this great anthemic song by Charles Wesley. What better hymn could there be for this occasion than Charles Wesley’s great ‘O for a thousand tongues to sing’? Both as an expression of the necessity of preaching the Gospel (My gracious Master and my God/ Assist me to proclaim/ To spread through all the earth abroad/ The honours of thy name) and a celebration of God’s Spirit working within the lives of John and Charles Wesley.
The story of John Wesley’s Aldersgate experience is well known and frequently recounted. Less familiar is younger brother Charles’ similar spiritual experience, which took place three days earlier on Pentecost Sunday. Charles was suffering from pleurisy and was being cared for at the house of John Bray in Little Britain, just a short distance from Aldersgate. The illness had brought him very low physically and spiritually. He was conscious of the faith of those who attended upon him and prayed for the same. In his Journal Charles wrote:
Sun., May 21st, 1738. I waked in hope and expectation of His coming. At nine my brother and some friends came, and sang an hymn to the Holy Ghost. My comfort and hope were hereby increased. In about half-an-hour they went: I betook myself to prayer; the substance as follows :–
“Oh Jesus, thou hast said, ‘I will come unto you ; ‘thou hast said, ‘ I will send the Comforter unto you ; thou hast said, ‘My Father and I will come unto you, and make our abode with you.’ Thou art God who canst not lie; I wholly rely upon thy most true promise: accomplish it in thy time and manner.”
Having said this, I was composing myself to sleep, in quietness and peace, when I heard one come in (Mrs. Musgrave, I thought, by the voice) and say, “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, arise, and believe, and thou shalt be healed of all thy infirmities.” I wondered how it should enter into her head to speak in that manner. The words struck me to the heart. I sighed, and said within myself, “O that Christ would but speak thus to me… of my recovery, soul and body…
I rose and looked into the Scripture. The words that first presented were, “And now, Lord, what is my hope truly my hope is even in thee.” I then cast down my eye, and met, “He hath put a new song in my mouth, even a thanksgiving unto our God. Many shall see it, and fear, and shall put their trust in the Lord.” Afterwards I opened upon Isaiah xl. 1: “Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, saith your God: speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sin.”
I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoiced in hope of loving Christ… 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.
As a matter of fact, this month just happens to be my 43rd birthday anniversary and August my 26th anniversary of accepting the Lord as my saviour. I do think I’ll use this great song to celebrate the occasion as we meditate on it on Hymns Alive!
But until I read more about this hymn, I thought the first line of this song was a prayer for more voices to join the author in praise of God. Is there anybody out there that will praise God with me? However, after reading some history behind this hymn, that is not the case. The author, Charles Wesley, had a Christian man proclaim to him that “the Lord has done so much for my life. Had I a thousand tongues, I would praise Christ Jesus with every one of them.” Maybe it seems like hyperbole to say that there are a thousand things to be thankful for and praise God for, but were we to take the time and list the things that God has done for us personally, our family, our Church, our Country, etc. we would need a thousand tongues to proclaim His excellent greatness.
There are two lines I want to highlight in this particular hymn. In the second verse, the author prayers “assist me to proclaim.” It is true that God doesn’t need our help to display His awesome power or His mighty works. However, He has chosen us to be the proclaimers of His truth. The author recognizes that (a) he has some proclaiming to do, and (b) he needs God help to accomplish this task. We also have proclaiming to do. In the workplaces. In our families. In the malls and on the highways. We can tell of His love by our actions and by our words. But we need to recognize that we can’t do it on our own. We need the Spirit’s leading and guiding. We need to be prepared to give a reason for our faith, but we also need to trust that He will “assist us” when we are telling the good news to others.
Secondly, the author states in the 3rd verse that “He breaks the power of cancelled sin.” When I read that phrasing, it causes me think. Isn’t cancelled sin already powerless? Theologically, it is a true statement. However, practically it is not always the case. People often times struggle with the same sins before and after they become a Christian. Whether this is because of a personality trait, a certain upbringing, or the fact that we can be so influenced by our surroundings that we continue in the same kind of sins. I don’t know. However, this verse reminds us that we don’t have to be “slaves to sin” any longer. When Christ comes into our life, we become a “new creation.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 says “Old things have passed away. Behold all things become new.” We should be encouraged by the promises of Scripture that remind us that we don’t have to live under the power of sin any longer. He truly can and will break the power of that “cancelled sin.”
The Bible often refers to sin as a debt. Debt can become a heavy burden. Most countries and economies have a means for debt to be wiped out or “forgiven” when someone is too far into debt. This practice is commonly known as bankruptcy. Although bankruptcy fixes an individual’s problem for the moment, there are consequences long after a person files bankruptcy. Although the debt has been cancelled, the power of that cancelled debt remains. It impacts their credit report for years. It may impact their ability to get certain jobs. Thanks be to God that it is not like that with Him and our sin debt. He doesn’t hold our sins over our head, and stand in constant judgement over us. He has forgiven us. He has broken the power of sin in our life. There is a well-known phrase that I like that says “I owed a debt I could not pay. He paid a debt He did not owe.” What a reminder that our sin, our debt, has been paid in full. On old hymn says “Jesus paid it all. All to Him owe. Sin had left a crimson stain. He washed it white as snow.” Aren’t you glad today that you are “debt free?”