O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing

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 January 20 2019, Ephesians 5


From the time I was born I was surrounded by Methodist believers.  My mother grew up at Ogburn Memorial Methodist  Church in Winston Salem, where my parents were married and where I was baptized.  My father grew up at Concord   Methodist  Church in Davie  County NC . My grandparents Van Allen and Annie Swicegood were both active Methodists. Not long ago  I googled my grandfather, not expecting any response.  After all he has been dead for more than 65  years.  But voila here was his obituary: 

*Appeared in the newspaper on Friday, March 16, 1951

V.A. Swicegood  Dies In Hospital

Van A. Swicegood, 52, of Route 4, Mocksville, died this morning at 8:15 o’clock at Rowan Memorial Hospital after a critical illness of four weeks. He had been in declining health for two years. Mr. Swicegood was a farmer and he had also engaged in textile work. A member of Concord Methodist Church in Davie County, he was a member of the stewards of the church and of the building committee. Until his health failed he was also a member of the Council of Youth Fellowship.


On my mother’s side of the family, my grandmother, Pauline Wilson, was active in the Methodist Church.  Sadly my maternal grandfather, Minter Bascom Wilson wasn’t much of a church goer.  On Sunday morning he was always hung over from his Saturday night bender and the only time he attended church was when they carried him in. 


It reminds me of the little ditty:

Whenever I go past my church I stop and pay a visit

In hopes that when I am carried in

The Lord won’t say:  “Who is it.?”


My great grandparents on my mother’s side, Alexander Lee Turner and Annie Sizemore Turner were Methodists in Greenville SC


As a boy I lived across  the street from the Methodist parsonage, so the preacher– not the pastor–but  the preacher was a family friend.  With all these Methodist influences swimming about me, it s no wonder that I was destined to enter the Methodist ministry.  And so I did.  I attended a Methodist college, Pfeiffer, where I’m now a trustee, and a Methodist Seminary, Drew Theological School in Madison, N.J. where I completed my seminary education.  I was ordained a Deacon in the Methodist church in 1965, and was all set to go back to NC to serve some Methodist church there when my Methodist journey was interrupted by an internship in a Presbyterian church in old Greenwich, CT.   The rest, as they say, is history.


So today I want to pay tribute to my Methodist roots by holding up the great hymn writer, Charles Wesley, whose brother, John was the founder of Methodism.    


As ___________told you, Wesley composed over 6000 hymns, eleven of which are in our hymnal   Here’s his bio, in brief.  

Charles Wesley was the eighteenth child of Susanna Wesley and Samuel Wesley. He was born in Epworth, Lincolnshire, England, in 1707. where his father was rector. He was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford, where he was ordained.[1] At Oxford, Charles formed a prayer group among his fellow students in 1727; his elder brother, John, joined in 1729, soon becoming its leader and molding it in line with his own convictions. They focused on studying the Bible and living a holy life. Other students mocked them, saying they were the “Holy Club”, “the Methodists”, being methodical and exceptionally detailed in their Bible study, opinions and disciplined lifestyle. Charles followed his brother John into the priesthood of the Anglican Church in 1735.  He had his brother sailed to America that same year to   be missionaries.  It didn’t work out for either of them.  John returned to England where he slowly built up the church which we now know as the Methodists.  Charles spent the rest of his years preaching in fields, in towns,  and villages. AND as the composer of Christian verse.  He was loyal to the Anglican Church to the end, and at the time of his death in 1788, his dying wish was to be buried at the graveyard of t St. Marylebone Anglican Church in London, where he rests troday.  


Among his best known hymns are the following

Arise my soul arise” (Lyrics)

“And Can It Be That I Should Gain?” (Lyrics)

“Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” (Lyrics)

“Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies” (Lyrics)

“Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown” (Lyrics)

“Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” (Lyrics)

“Depth of Mercy, Can it Be” (Lyrics)

“Father, I Stretch My Hands to Thee” (Lyrics)

“Hail the Day that Sees Him Rise” (Lyrics)

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” (Lyrics)

“Jesus, Lover of My Soul” (Lyrics)

“Jesus, The Name High Over All” (Lyrics)

“Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending” (Lyrics)

“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” (Lyrics)

“O for a Heart to Praise My God” (Lyrics)

“O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” (Lyrics)

“Rejoice, the Lord is King” (Lyrics)

“Soldiers of Christ, Arise” (Lyrics)

“Sun of Unclouded Righteousness”

“Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose” (Lyrics)

“Ye Servants of God” (Lyrics)


John Wesley, Charles’ older brother, also composed hymns, 191 in all.  The most familiar to us are “A Charge to Keep, I Have.”   “Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending. ‘Give to the Winds Thy Fears.” 

In 1761, John Wesley penned these guidelines for corporate singing for church congregations: 

1. Learn these tunes before you learn any others, afterwards learn as many as you please.

2. Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.



3. Sing All – see that you join the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing.

4. Sing Lustily – and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half-dead or half-asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sang the songs of Satan.

5. Sing Modestly – do not bawl so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation that you may not destroy the harmony, but strive to unite your voices together so as to make one melodious sound.

6. Sing in time – whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before and do not stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices and move therewith as exactly as you can and take care not to sing too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.

7. Sing spiritually – have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.”

Back to Charles Wesley.    Today we are going to sing four  of his best-known hymns beginning with an Advent Hymn: :”Come Thou Long Expected Jesus:”   Number 82.  And now his Christmas hymn Number 119, Hark the Herald Angels Sing.  

And he has penned our most famous and most beloved Easter hymn “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today.”  It reminds me of what a man said to the pastor after the Easter service as they shook hands at the door.   “I don’t like to come to your church, pastor.”

“Why is that?” the pastor inquired

“Because every time I come to your church you sing the same old hymns–”Silent Night” and Jesus Christ is Risen Today” Let’s  sing Hymn 232.

It’s hard to say which of Wesley’s hymns is the “best.”  But I love this one: “Love Divine, All Love’s Excelling,” and the hymn we will sing to end our service, “Rejoice, The Lprd is King,” So let us stand and sing, “Love Divine, All Love’s Excelling,” Number 366.  

Ours is a singing faith.  Way back there in what we call the  Old Testament the Hebrew children sang, and danced and played the flute and harp and timbrel, songs  have become known as our Psalms.  On the last night of his life, Jesus observed the Passover Meal r with his disciples.  And at the end of the meal, they sang a hymn and walked to the Garden of Gethsemane.  In every gathering of worship in  the first century church, hymns were sung.   

We continue that tradition today, a tradition some 3000 years and going strong.  God’s people.  God’s people who sing.  

Categories: Weekly Sermon

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