O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing

Album: Charles Wesley - 20 Favourite Hymns (1739)
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Songfacts®:

  • Charles Wesley was born on December 18, 1707, the 18th child out of 19 of Samuel and Susanna Wesley. The rector of Epworth in Lincolnshire, Samuel Wesley, was also a poet who passed on his poetic gifts to his son.

    Charles followed his father and brother John into Anglican orders. In October 1735, the siblings sailed for Savannah in Georgia Colony in British America at the request of its governor, James Oglethorpe. There, Charles met a Mr. Bray, who he described as "a poor, innocent mechanic who knows nothing but Christ."

    After returning to England, Charles converted from High Church to Evangelical Christianity on May 21, 1738 through a sister of Mr. Bray, Mrs. Turner. As she spoke to him about Christ, he picked up his Bible and opened to Psalm 40 v 3: "He hath put a new song, in my mouth, even praise unto our God." Three days later, John Wesley had the same conversion experience.

    A year later, Charles Wesley wrote the hymn "O For A Thousand Tongues" to celebrate the first anniversary of his conversion. He penned it after a Moravian friend, Peter Bohler, remarked to him, "If I had a thousand tongues I would praise Christ with them all." The words set Wesley's heart aglow, and he penned the hymn with a full and thankful heart as a testimony of what Christ has done for him.
  • Following their evangelical conversions, the Wesley brothers traveled throughout Britain, converting followers to the Methodist revival by preaching to crowds in open fields. While Charles Wesley was an accomplished field preacher, he is best known today as a hymn writer. It is said Methodism was born in song and Charles was the chief songwriter.
  • Charles Wesley wrote over 6,500 hymns, more than any other man (Fanny Crosby wrote 8,000). His other works include "And Can It Be," "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling," and the carol "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." During the awakening, Charles Wesley's most popular hymn was "Jesus, Lover Of My Soul."
  • Charles Wesley's original version of "O For A Thousand Tongues" took the form of an 18-stanza poem, beginning "Glory to God, and praise, and love, Be ever, ever given" Today the hymn is often condensed into a smaller number of stanzas, typically between five and eight.
  • Americans commonly sing "Thousand Tongues" to Lowell Mason's 1839 arrangement of the hymn tune "Azmon," composed by Carl G. Glaser 11 years earlier. In the UK, "Lyngham," a choral tune by English composer Thomas Jarman published around 1803, is often used.

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