“O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise!” (Charles Wesley 1707–1788)
Hymn writer Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847) was born in Scotland and educated at Trinity College, Dublin. Lyte entered the ministry of the Church of Ireland. After a curacy in Ireland, he moved to England, where he married and held several more curacies, the last being at Lower Brixham, Devon. Plagued by ill health, he made frequent foreign visits in search of sunshine and cures. He died at Nice in France and was buried in the British cemetery there.
Because of his constant sickness and his understanding of God’s peace, Lyte’s hymns were written out of deep spiritual experience. This is reflected in many of his well-known hymns including “Abide with Me, Fast Falls the Eventide,”
“Pleasant are Thy Courts Above,”
“Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven,” and “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken.” His personal trials only increased his faith in the unfailing goodness of God.
Lyte’s best-known hymn, “Praise my soul the King of Heaven” was inspired by the first three verses of David’s Psalm 103. Verses 1-5 call us to praise God for the way He forgives, heals and fills our lives with good things. In verses 11-14 these mercies are emphasised; God is concerned for the downtrodden, He is patient and loving – not punishing us for our transgressions. Because of his poor health, Lyte would have been aware of his mortality, highlighted in verses 15-18. Our earthly life is like that of a flower or grass that flourishes, then fades and dies. Yet this sobering thought is overcome by the promise in verse 17; those who honour the Lord will experience His love from everlasting to everlasting.
The Psalm ends – 19-22 – with assurance. God has established His throne in heaven and His kingdom rules over all. Those who dwell in heaven and on earth are called to be as one in praise of Him. “Praise the Lord, all His works everywhere in His dominion and to His feet thy tribute bring.” This Psalm is a hymn of individual thanksgiving in which the writer rises from a thankful acknowledgment of personal blessings to a celebration of God’s gracious forgiveness and faithfulness that would have spoken to Lyte as he suffered with illness and frailty. The Psalm concludes by commanding all creatures to unite in this song of praise. If the angelic hosts are quick to do his will, how much more those who have experienced his mighty acts of salvation and mercy.
Peter Buehler, who helped lead John and Charles Wesley to experience conversions, once said, “If I had a thousand tongues, I’d praise Christ with them all.” Charles Wesley expanded this stray comment into lines that became the well-known hymn “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.”
Have a good week. If you are suffering from sickness or depression I pray that Psalm 103 will be a comfort and blessing to you as it has been for me as I go through these vision difficulties.
Optional Bible reading: Psalm 103
This is one of a series of weekly messages of encouragement, now in its twenty-fifth year, originating from Gympie, Fraser Coast, Queensland, Australia. A companion Bible study page is available each week. To subscribe via email send to [email protected] with the words ‘Subscribe Word (or) Subscribe Word & Study’. Our ministry is free and emailing lists are confidential. Tell a friend or why not put a note in your church newsletter or pew sheet about this ministry – we welcome new subscriptions.
Pastor Ron Clarke OAM
Word for the Week
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