"O, For A Thousand Tongues to Sing" (1739)
there is no universal agreement as to historical occasion of the origin of this
hymn. However, at the end of the
nineteenth century the English hymnologist, Dr. John Julian, maintained that “O
for a thousand tongues to sing” was inspired by an expression of Peter Bohler
in response to Charles Wesley’s inquiry about praising Christ. Bohler apparently exclaimed, “Had I a
thousand tongues, I would praise Him with them all.”
This hymn could also be inspired by the declaration of Acts 2:11, “Cretes and
Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues, the wonderful works of
God.” Wesley likely penned this
hymn on May 21, 1739, which was one year after his conversion.
1:1. O for a thousand tongues to sing
119:172—My tongue will sing of your word, for all your commandments are right.
1:3. The glories of my God and King
145:1—I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.
2:3. To spread through all the earth abroad
Matt 9:31—But they, when they were
departed, spread abroad his fame in all the that country.
2:4. The honours of thy name
66:2—sing the honor of his name; give to him glorious praise!
4:2. He sets prisoners free
Isa 61:1—The Spirit of the Lord God is
upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he
has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.
4:3. His blood can make the foulest clean
Isa 1:18—“Come now, let us reason
together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as
white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
4:4. His blood availed for me
Gal 2:20—I have been crucified with
Christ. It is no longer I who
live, but Christ who lives in me.
And the life I know live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of god,
who loved me and gave himself for me.
Eph 1:7—In him we have redemption
through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches
of his grace.
5:1. Hear Him ye deaf; his praise, ye dumb
Matt 11:4-5—And Jesus answered them,
“God and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the
lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up,
and the poor have good news preached to them.
Mk 7:37—And they were astonished beyond
measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and
the mute speak.”
5:3. Ye blind, behold your Saviour come
Isa 35:5-6—Then the eyes of the blind
shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
5:4. And leap, ye lame for joy
Acts 3:8—And leaping up he stood and
began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and
6:1. Look unto him, ye nations, own
Isa 45:22—Turn to Me and be saved, all
the ends of the earth. For I am
God, and there is no other.
6:3. Look, and be saved through faith alone
Eph 2:8—For by grace you have been
saved through faith. And this is
not your own doing; it is the gift of God.
7:1. See all your sins on Jesus laid
Isa 53:6—All we like sheep have gone
astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7:2. The Lamb of God was slain
Jn 1:29—The next day he saw Jesus
coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin
of the world!”
Rev 5:6—And between the throne and the
four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it
had been slain, with seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of
God sent out into all the earth.
7:3. His soul once an offering made
Isa 53:10—Yet it was the will of the
Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief, when his souls makes an offering
for guild, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of
the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
8:2. And Christ shall give you light
Eph 5:14—for anything that becomes
visible is light. Therefore it
says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on
8:3. Cast all your sins into the deep
Micah 7:19—He will again have
compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the
depths of the sea.
8:4. And wash the Ehtiop white
Jer 13:23—Can the Ethiopian change his
skin or the leopard his spots?
Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.
9:1. With me, your chief, ye then shall know
1 Tim 1:15—The saying is trustworthy
and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save
sinners, of whom I am the foremost.
hymn is a snapshot of the Evangelical fire at its brightest and hottest. As the hymn begins, it celebrates the
Christian’s evangelical conversion, and as it progresses past the eighth verse,
there is a distinct shift of praise to God for personal salvation to an appeal
for the salvation of sinners.
Common to Wesleyan piety, this hymn demonstrates evangelistic doxology. Wesley’s doxology was soaked in gospel
doctrine. As demonstrated above,
the meter is 8x6x8x6, and nearly every verse has references Scripture, whether
by allusion or by quotation. The
theology of this hymn exults in the saving power of Christ to save the lost
souls both near and far. There is
no one outside the reach of the saving power of God Almighty. The flood of salvation runs through all
races, ages, nations, and kinds of sinners. Demonstrating the rich thoughtfulness of Wesley’s theology
is the following verse: “He breaks the power of canceled sin.” This verse shows how Wesley viewed the
fight of faith and the need for progressive salvation. Though we are justified, we are still
sinful. And though our sin has
been canceled on the cross, it still has power to tempt us throughout our
lives. But the hymn does not leave
us to despair of our depravity; rather, we are encouraged to rejoice in the
miracle of deliverance and the new birth.
We are called upon to proclaim the good news of the freeness and
fullness of God’s grace.
(1712-1775) was a minister among the Moravians in Germany alongside Count
Nicholaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf.
He was visiting England after John and Charles Wesley had returned from
a missionary journey in Georgia.
Bohler influenced them in their personal, evangelical renewals.
Julian (ed.), A Dictionary of Hymnology,
2nd ed., rev. (London: John Murray, 1907; rpt. New York: Dover
Publications, Inc., 1957), 1:428, quoted in Samuel J. Rogald, O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing, The
History of Christian Hymnody, vol. 10, Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press,
most likely, to the majority of those who rise from their seats in the pews to
sing ‘O For a thousand tongues,’ Chrales Wesley’s noted hymn does not stand
alone as a poem unto itself.
Depending upon the number of stanzas included in a specific hymnal, it
represents, in the most recent books, but between four and seven verses from
the original poem, ‘For the Anniversary Day of One’s Conversion,’ in eighteen
four-line verses—written in 1739, exactly one year following the poet’s
evangelical conversion at London on Sunday, 21 May 1738, and published,
initially, in Part II of the Wesleys’ Hymns
and Sacred Poems (London: William Strahan, 1740).” Rogald, O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing, 5.
Rogald claims that “in thirty-six lines of hymnodic verse one finds no less
than twenty-one distinct references to the Holy Scriptures, which, in turn, can
be translated to reveal the fact that fifty-eight percent of the hymn derives
from the Bible.” Ibid., 16.
reference is a sign of heathen conversion, which would have been inoffensive in