O For a thousand tongues to sing
My dear Redeemer’s praise!
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace!
O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing
By: Charles Wesley, 1707-1788
Listen as you read. This version is from Together for the Gospel.
I just love hearing many voices lifted together in praise. I love being one of those voices. I suppose those are probably things you enjoy as well since you have arrived here and are reading this.
But what if you could not sing at all? If this was your experience for a season, especially if you were able to sing before, then you would be glad to be able to lift your voice in praise again. I can say this with confidence because it was my experience.
This hymn was written by Charles Wesley to commemorate the one year anniversary of his healing from pleurisy. Pleurisy is inflammation of the tissues that line the lungs and chest cavity. It causes chest pain that worsens during breathing, and generally hurts more with deeper breathes like those required to sing. It is a painful condition that can be treated with anti-inflammatories, pain relievers and rest.
I am not sure beyond rest what other care might have been available to Wesley, but I availed myself of all three of these and then some. I actually developed an infection which required surgery to remove the infectious material in my chest cavity. Three days after that initial procedure undetected internal bleeding nearly cost me my life. A second emergency procedure was conducted to rectify that issue.
Needless to say, as I lay in ICU I was so thankful to be alive that I struggled to take in enough breath to quietly sing praise to God. I had to praise Him for I felt my survival was a triumph of HIs grace. If I had known the story of this hymn I would glad have sung it, but I do indeed vividly remember singing Amazing Grace to God who had again “saved a wretch like me”.
I Would Praise Him with Them All
Wesley had become ill while studying in London with his brother John under Moravian scholar Peter Boehler. Boehler was quoted to have said,
“Had I a thousand tongues I would praise Him with them all”.
Though we know this hymn by the words that so aptly capture that thought, they actually served as the seventh stanza of the original eighteen stanzas. Most hymnals have shortened the hymn to between 6-8 stanzas, which is not uncommon for many hymns. As you would imagine there are some good stanzas which did not make the cut.
This one comes for the one before the one the calls the deaf to hear His voice.
He speaks, – and, listening to his voice,
New life the dead receive;
The mournful, broken hearts rejoice;
The humble poor believe.
This is a great call to the world to worship.
Look unto him, ye nations; own
Your God, ye fallen race;
Look, and be saved through faith alone,
Be justified by grace.
This is a great concise declaration of the Gospel.
See all your sins on Jesus laid;
The Lamb of God was slain;
His soul was once an offering made
For every soul of man.
You can’t really “praise Him with them all” if you don’t even know they exist.
…Until It’s Gone
Of course we do not miss those stanzas if we never knew they were a part of this great hymn. But this is like the inverse of the saying “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” More like, “You don’t realize what you are missing until it arrives.” Not quite the same, other than relating to an awareness of something possessed or dispossessed.
For me, it was not really being able to sing or even take a deep breath, in those days leading up to the diagnosis and first procedure,and certainly between the two. I did not realize how precious using one tongue to praise my Redeemer. Loosing the ability to do so, even for a few days, helped me to realize what a gift being able to praise truly is. I am certain that realization is a part of what inspired Wesley to pen these words.
So my question to help you tune today is, “Are you using everything at your disposal to give praise to God?” Whether musical ability or some other talent or skill, are you making the most of them to declare His glory? Wesley gives us words to commit to using a thousand tongues if we had them, but maybe we need to make certain we are maximizing each of the ones we currently possess. If so, then go ahead and ask for more. If not, then it is definitely time to do some tuning.
Jesus, thank You for giving me the tongue I have, and every other ability to render the praise that is due your Name. Had I a thousand tongues, they would not be enough to magnify Your excellencies. Even still, help me to make the most of every ability I possess, and graciously add to them according to Your will, that I may use them each to exalt You. In Jesus name. Amen.
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