The brothers John and Charles Wesley, while students at Oxford University, became disillusioned and dissatisfied because of the spiritual lethargy of the school. Their response was to form what they called a “Holy Club”. They developed methodical ways of living and study. These devout young brothers were commissioned to go the America to help stabilize the church in the the Georgia Colonies and to evangelize the Indians.
Enroute to their field of service while crossing the Atlantic they found themselves on a ship with a group of German Moravians. The Moravians were a small evangelical group who were know for their missions work and their enthusiastic hymn singing. According to the Wesley’s journal , on January 25, 1736 the ship was caught in a terrible storm. Charles observed this group as they worshiped in the midst of the storm.
"In the midst of the Psalm wherewith their service began, the sea broke over, split the main sail in pieces, cover the ship and poured in between the decks… A terrible scream began among the English. The Moravians looked up, and without intermission calmly sang on. I asked on of them afterward, 'Were you not afraid?' He answered, 'Thank God , No!'" This fearlessness had a lasting effect on the brothers.
After a short and unsuccessful experience with their ministry in America, the brothers returned England. In Aldersgate , London they again were influenced by a group of these devout Moravians. It was here that both of the brothers accepted Jesus Christ as their savior (even though they had already been zealous in their work of the Church for years). From this time forward the ministry of the Wesleys took on a new level of power. They traveled through out Great Britain, conducted over 40,000 meetings, and wrote more than 6,500 hymns. It is generally agreed that Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley have been the most influential hymn writer in English Hymnody.
On the anniversary of his conversion at Aldersgate, Charles Wesley wrote a nineteen stanza hymn entitled “For the Anniversary Day of One’s Conversion” (often referred to as "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing"). Many of the stanzas that dealt with the Wesleys' personal conversion experience are usually left out. An example from one such stanza is:
I felt my Lord’s atoning blood close to my soul applied, Me, me He loved- the Son of God-for me, for me He died.
Usually, the seventh stanza is now sung as the first, and this is normally the one that we know this hymn by. This stanza was inspired by the comment of Peter Bohler who said, “Had I a thousand tongue, I would praise Christ Jesus with all of them. “ We know it by the lines:
Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing My great Redeemer’s Praise
The glories of my God and King, the triumphs of His grace.
Even though it is a disturbing visual thought (as one of my pianists reminds me, each time we sing the song) It tells us that with whatever we have and whatever we are we should use all to praise and honor our God. With God’s guidance and assistance we are to proclaim God’s name throughout the world.
(Click Here to Listen to the "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing")
- Sam Leslie, Minister of Music