Read His Words Before Ours!
We love reasons to celebrate, don’t we?
National holidays that close banks and
National donut-days for indulgences
While most of us celebrate our birthday in some way, (or bless their heart, others celebrate it for us!), have you ever considered the day you were born-again?
The day God first opened your eyes and drew your heart into a trusting relationship with Him.
That’s what Charles Wesley, the great English hymn-writer did.
Of the 6,500 hymns he penned in the 1700s, one of his most well-known was written upon the 1-year anniversary of his conversion. Originally titled “For the Anniversary of One’s Conversion”, it quickly became known as “O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing!”.
This is a celebration story of who Wesley was, who God has always been, and how sinners like us can be saved.
Originally, Charles Wesley wrote 18 stanzas, but most hymnals today use 4-5 of those and have shifted the order around. I’m including all but two of the original stanzas (*explanation for omission in footnote), because this version tells Wesley’s full conversion story we may otherwise miss. Let’s dig in!
Glory to God, and praise and love
be ever, ever given,
by saints below and saints above,
the church in earth and heaven.
On this glad day the glorious Sun
of Righteousness arose;
on my benighted soul he shone
and filled it with repose.
Sudden expired the legal strife,
’twas then I ceased to grieve;
my second, real, living life
I then began to live.
The first three stanzas open with exuberance, calling all who hear to praise God! He recounts the very day God’s light shone on his dark heart. He tells us his “legal strife” is now gone, pointing our eyes to Christ’s work in canceling our legal debt. (Colossians 2:14)
Then with my heart I first believed,
believed with faith divine,
power with the Holy Ghost received
to call the Savior mine.
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!
I found and owned his promise true,
ascertained of my part,
my pardon passed in heaven I knew
when written on my heart.
Here Wesley lays out the foundation of the gospel. He knew “faith divine” comes from a God who makes us come alive. (Colossians 2:13) Stanzas five and six speak directly to the atoning sacrifice of Jesus to pardon the sinner. Romans 5:6-8 These weren’t simply theological points for Wesley, they were “written on his heart” in true belief.
O for a thousand tongues to sing
my dear 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.
Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
that bids our sorrows cease;
’tis music in the sinner’s ears,
’tis life, and health, and peace!
Like a geyser that can no longer hold back, Wesley springs forth in praise with that most familiar seventh stanza! It catapults him into the eighth asking God to help him spread this amazing news to others. By stanza nine Wesley gives voice to the truth that Jesus’ love casts out fear (1 John 4:18, Romans 8:15), and surpasses all else (Philippians 3:7-8)!
He breaks the power of canceled sin,
he sets the prisoner free;
his blood can make the foulest clean;
his blood availed for me.
He speaks, and listening to his voice
new life the dead receive;
the mournful, broken hearts rejoice,
the humble poor believe.
Look unto him, ye nations, own
your God, ye fallen race!
Look, and be saved through faith alone,
be justified by grace!
Wesley is not only telling us his story, but THE story of redemption.
It’s as if we hear him say “You want to know how I know? He did it for ME!”
He’s making a strong case here, line by line, that Jesus is all of life, for all nations.
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.
Harlots and publicans and thieves,
in holy triumph join!
Saved is the sinner that believes
From crimes as great as mine.
Murderers and all ye hellish crew,
ye sons of lust and pride,
believe the Savior died for you;
for me the Savior died.
Okay now Wesley is writing for the back row – for the ones thinking, “no way this includes me”. He’s hitting it home so every last person knows that every sin, in every form, was laid on Jesus. He came for those who know they need a doctor, (Matthew 9:12) and died for every single crime against a holy God (Psalm 51:4).
With me, your chief, you then shall know,
shall feel your sins forgiven;
anticipate your heaven below
and own that love is heaven.
Wesley closes out with a nod to 1 Timothy 1:15, where Paul calls himself the worst of sinners. He wants to make this invitation clear and show his confidence is not in his morality, but in how far-reaching grace is.
Learning from Wesley
Wesley used a hymn to do it. Some give speeches. Others write books, some preach sermons and others sit across coffee tables with tears streaming down as they listen. Some paint the sky, or make a meal for gathered guests, and someone right now might be throwing in another load of wash for that college kid that needs help.
The question is not how you will do it.
The question is, will you?
Will you choose to celebrate God’s redemption of your life with someone else?
Will you choose to embody it, and then invite others into that free gift?
Decide today, that if there’s anything worth celebrating with our lives, it’s that Christ died for the sins of the ungodly, that we might be reconciled to God forever (1 Timothy 1:15-17, Romans 5:10-11).
*Two of Charles Wesley’s original stanzas were omitted in the writing of this article because they contain language that is both racially offensive and also derogatory toward individuals with physically impairment. It is the conviction that these stanzas not be circulated as they do not hold up the basic premise of the imago dei (Genesis 1:27). We can respect the work of many great men and women in history such as Wesley, and rightly recognize where sin still laced their thoughts, hearts and actions as they do ours today in myriad ways. God, however, is the faithful One, and we look to Him as our guide, knowing He will one day make all things right and new.
Embracing God’s fullness in our lives is rooted in scripture and memorizing His word is vital to our continued growth and depth with Jesus. Tap and hold from your mobile device to download this week’s verse and make it your phone’s lockscreen!