One of Charles Wesley’s most well-known and loved hymns is O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing. The opening stanzas are striking, memorable, and packed with theological realities.
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.
O For a Thousand Tongues
The story is told of an unbeliever who began to seek answers by taking a closer look at Christianity. He had begun to feel the weight of his personal guilt and knew he was in need of help. While he later came to trust in Christ, his first encounter with Christian worship was not entirely positive.
He visited a church not too far from his home, walked in a bit late so as not to have to talk to anyone, sat down in the back row, and began to observe the service taking place around him. The congregation soon started to sing Charles Wesley’s famous hymn O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing, and the visitor was struck by the dichotomy of what he was witnessing.
Speak of him; sing to him; spread his honor across the globe.
On the one hand, he could not help but notice that the hymn being sung spoke to the very heart of what had drawn him here in the first place: “Jesus! The name that calms our fears, That bids our sorrows cease … He breaks the power of cancelled sin, He sets the pris’ner free; His blood can make the foulest clean; His blood availed for me.”
This was the help he had been looking for! Someone who could break the power that sin had been wielding over him, who could make his dirty conscience clean, who could calm his fears and soothe the sorrow he felt over his sins. This was wonderful news! These were glorious lyrics!
Yet, on the other hand, how unimpressed the congregation themselves seemed to be with the song they were singing. The faces around him revealed a mixture of boredom and distraction, with a sprinkling of miserable. No one appeared to be moved much at all by the beautiful words that were pouring absentmindedly from their own lips.
The visitor thought to himself, “While they mouth the prayer for a thousand tongues, it seems evident that one tongue is more than sufficient for the worship in which they are engaged.”
My Great Redeemer’s Praise
Sad to say, this visitor’s story is probably not an uncommon one, and we as Christians are perhaps often guilty of making a mediocre impression when it comes to “the glories of our God and King.” But not because our great redeemer does not deserve to be praised!
Doubtless this tremendous disparity — between the deservedness of our Savior to receive our worship and adoration, and our feeble and faltering attempts to praise him — is what drove even Charles Wesley to include this prayer in his hymn: “assist me to proclaim … the honors of Thy name.”
We too often spend our time and energy feeding and nurturing and protecting our bodies, rather than feeding and nurturing and protecting our souls.
Wesley is not alone. The psalmist David pleads with his own soul for greater levels of devotion: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” (Psalm 103:1). The translators wisely end this sentence with an exclamation point to express the intensity with which David stirs himself to worship.
In David’s prayer we learn a crucial insight into the nature of genuine, God-centered glorying — true worship requires your all. David exclaims, “all that is within me, bless his holy name,” and addresses his energetic appeal to his soul: “Bless the Lord, O my soul.”
Why does David address himself in this manner? Because, as Matthew Henry put it, “The soul is the man.” Henry went on to make this crucial observation:
The soul is the man, and that condition of life is best for us that is best for our souls. It fares with the man as it fares with his soul. He is the truly healthful man whose soul prospers and is in health…Those are our best friends that are friends to our souls, and those are our worst enemies that are enemies to our souls.
C.S. Lewis echoed this thought, contending that “we are not bodies with souls; we are souls with bodies.” We too often spend our time and energy feeding and nurturing and protecting our bodies, rather than feeding and nurturing and protecting our souls.
So, David yearns to himself, “all that is within me, bless the Lord, bless his name.” In other words, all that is me bless his holy name. All that I am, the one thing I am all about, must be the worship of my Lord. True worship requires your all. David realized that you can’t serve a God this great with half your heart, half your strength, half your mind. Our Savior, as Wesley pronounced, really is our great Redeemer and he deserves our praise, our all.
For Charles Wesley, however, Jesus was not only great: Jesus was his Redeemer. Wesley spoke of “my great Redeemer’s name.” Perhaps the reason we so often and so easily drag along in our personal and public worship is that we have not consistently, consciously internalized and personalized the redemption that Christ accomplished on the cross.
It is so easy to do; thousands of so-called Christians are guilty of it every Sunday. They sing songs about Jesus, listen to teaching about Jesus, corporately participate in prayers to Jesus — but never actually interact with Jesus, never claiming his perfect redemptive work in relation to their own guilt and sin.
But when internalized, personalized redemption finally meets a soul that is sensitive to the worthiness of Jesus Christ, a thousand tongues would not suffice for the praise that such a soul longs to offer up in the great Redeemer’s name.
To Spread Through All the Earth Abroad
The hymn sets the goal high, doesn’t it? “Assist me to proclaim your praise, Lord, not just in my home or in my corner of the office — but through all the earth.”
No wonder the desire is couched in the language of a prayer, begging God’s assistance to praise God as he deserves to be praised! When we recognize the infinite worthiness of God to be worshiped, and the finite ability we have to respond appropriately, we begin to feel the weight of Charles Wesley’s prayer. “Assist me, Lord! O for a thousand tongues, Lord!”
Yet, what a great comfort to also awaken to what God has already called and equipped us to. James reminds us, in his epistle, of the tremendous potential we have — with just the one tongue we’ve been given — to stir up great praise for God.
Your tongue can turn conversations toward the glory of God, can steer loved ones to the sufficiency of Christ.
We often focus on the negative aspect of the tongue’s potential revealed in James’ letter, that it can defile the whole body and can be like a deadly poison. But James actually begins his discussion of the tongue by pointing out several positive examples of the tongue’s potential for good. He compares it to the small mouth-bit that allows a horse to be turned about, the tiny rudder that steers a great ship, and a little spark that begins a forest fire (all good, when they are used carefully and purposefully).
James concludes, then, that although “the tongue is a small member” it is able to boast of “great things” (James 3:5). It is able to accomplish enormous good, as well as tremendous damage. Your tongue can turn conversations toward the glory of God, can steer loved ones to the sufficiency of Christ, can spark a forest fire of praise to your great Redeemer by making your life-song sing his name.
Charles Wesley keenly understood this potential for each saved sinner to bring glory to God. So, while he prayed for assistance in proclaiming the name of Christ and longed for even more tongues to do it with, he also envisioned the very real possibility of being used “to spread through all the earth abroad the honors of thy name.”
If you have personally claimed and trusted in the work of your great Redeemer, and desire to proclaim his name, then do not settle for little worship or small praise. Use the great potential of the tongue God has given you to spread the glory of God to the ends of the earth. Speak of him; sing to him; spread his honor across the globe.