O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing

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Charles Wesley, 1739
This hymn was written by the great hymnist Charles Wesley, who wrote over 6,000 hymns. His brother John Wesley is known as the father of Methodism. “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” was written for Sunday, May 21, 1739 to commemorate the first anniversary of his conversion to Christ on Pentecost Sunday, or WhitSunday. It was first published in 1780 in
A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists but today is included in the hymnals of many other denominations.

The structure of the hymn reflects Wesley’s theology. Jonathan Powers writes:

“The structure of the hymn (glory – testimony – proclamation – exhortation) demonstrates that the spiritual life is not to be primarily concerned with pious introspection of the individual; instead, conversion should lead to the praise of God and sharing the good news of the gospel.”

Interesting video history of Wesley brothers by David Duerr (first 5 minutes)

AZMON, Carl G. Gläser, 1828
Set to the tune AZMON written by German musician and teacher Carl G. Gläser in 1828. The lyrics were set to AZMON by American bank clerk turned music composer and teacher Lowell Mason for the Modern Psalmist in 1829.

The original text contains an astonishing number of 18 verses. Hymnals commonly include seven of these verses, though some have less. Hymns at Home has recorded the seven verses listed in the Lutheran Hymnal

John and Charles Wesley were sent to America as ministers of the Church of England prior to what they would call their true conversions to Christ. They were posted as missionaries in Georgia but left less than two years later believing their ministries had failed.

Resources for sharing with children: “O For a Thousand Tongues” is included in Kenneth W. Osbeck’s Amazing Grace: Illustrated Stories of Hymns.

Susanna Wesley, mother of John and Charles, is also a well-known Christian figure. Despite many trials, her strong faith persisted. A story I remember from childhood was is that of her prayer apron. With 10 surviving children (19 total children born to her), in order to find time alone with the Lord she would pull her apron over her head to pray. When the apron was over her head her children knew not to disturb her.

Some of Charles Wesley’s other well known hymns include:

  • And Can It Be That I Should Gain 
  • Christ the Lord is Risen Today
  • Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
  • Hark! the Herald Angels Sing
  • Jesus, Lover of My Soul
  • Love Divine, All Loves Excelling

The Lutheran Hymnal #360 (However, in the Lutheran Hymnal it is set to the tune BEATITUDO, not AZMON.)

Green, Roger J. “1738 John & Charles Wesley Experience Conversions.” Christianity Today. 1990. Web. 19 July 2016.
Powers, Jonathan. “Lyrical Theology: O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.” Theology in Worship. 18 May 2011. Web. 18 July 2016.
Sanders, MaryBeth. “History of Hymns: ‘O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.’” Discipleship Ministries. The United Methodist Church. Web. 18 July 2016. 

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