O For a Heart to Praise My God

Hymnology: O For a Heart to Praise My God

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
~ Galatians 2:20

Hymn Story

As one of the most prolific hymn writers of all time (with well over 6000 hymns to his credit!), it will be the rare Christian who has never sung a hymn written by Charles Wesley. Most people know him as the author of such greats as And Can It Be and Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus, or as one of the founders of Methodism. What may be less commonly known is that, like his brother John, Charles was ordained as a minister in the Anglican church before his conversion.

After years of studying and teaching God’s Word, the brothers Wesley realized that the Bible described a transformed heart and personal relationship with the Savior which they had never experienced for themselves. When God replaced their hearts of stone with hearts of flesh, it lit their ministry on fire! Both were known for their passionate style of preaching, driven by their intense desire to see more and more hearts changed by the gospel.

Charles, the more gifted scholar of the two, turned his linguistic talents (he was fluent in several languages, including Latin and Greek) to composing hymns which would provide “a distinct and full account of scriptural Christianity,” as his brother John put it. O For a Heart to Praise My God was written in 1742, four years after his conversion, and quickly became one of his most popular hymns. It’s author knew better than most that true praise requires much more than true doctrine; it requires a new heart, which can only be given by God himself.

Here is a choral rendition of the hymn text set to an 18th-century tune (RICHMOND) by Thomas Haweis:

I love the melody that Brenton Brown recently composed for this text, recorded on the album “Love Divine: The Hymns of Charles Wesley“:

Lyrics

O for a heart to praise my God,
A heart from sin set free,
A heart that always feels Thy blood
So freely shed for me.

A heart resigned, submissive, meek,
My great Redeemer’s throne,
Where only Christ is heard to speak,
Where Jesus reigns alone.

A humble, lowly, contrite, heart,
Believing, true and clean,
Which neither life nor death can part
From Christ who dwells within.

A heart in every thought renewed
And full of love divine,
Perfect and right and pure and good,
A copy, Lord, of Thine.

Thy nature, gracious Lord, impart;
Come quickly from above;
Write Thy new name upon my heart,
Thy new, best name of Love.

Hymn Study

In his Methodist Hymn Book Notes published in 1883, G.J. Stevenson included these words to describe his reaction to this uplifting hymn, a favorite among evangelical Christians of that time:

“Faint not, Christian, though the way be dreary, and though clouds and gloom be spread around—there is light above and beyond.”

How liberating it is to be set free from sin! The converted soul longs to praise its Redeemer. Yet as Stevenson also notes, “Religion does not exempt a man from trials, but it does supply him with needful grace to help him endure and overcome them.” Just as we need a new heart to be saved once and for all eternity, so we also need this new heart to enable us to live the life Christ calls us to live. We need it to sustain us through trials.

How do we come by this new heart and the salvation it brings? It is entirely the work of God. Take note of God’s assertion of His own sovereignty over salvation in the promise of the Holy Spirit given to the house of Israel through the prophet Ezekiel:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:25-27, ESV)

What are some of the characteristics of this new heart which God bestows upon his children? The hymn lists many:

  • Resigned
  • Submissive
  • Meek
  • Humble
  • Lowly
  • Contrite
  • Believing
  • True
  • Clean
  • In every thought renewed
  • Full of love
  • Perfect
  • Right
  • Pure
  • Good

In short, this is a copy of the Lord’s own heart, the imprint of his gracious nature that is imparted to us when his Spirit comes to dwell within us. Once this happens, it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives within us (Galatians 2:20). Equipped with this new heart, we are not only freed from sin—we are freed to walk with Christ. Though we are not yet glorified, we are being conformed to the image of the Son (Romans 8:29). Though we experience setbacks, we do not lose heart, for we are being renewed day by day as we are being prepared for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:16-17).

So sing, people of God! For the Lord has given you a new heart! May it always feel the blood which Christ freely shed for you.

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