"O, COULD I SPEAK THE MATCHLESS WORTH"
"I will declare what He hath done for my soul" (Ps. 66.16)
INTRO.: A song which praises the Savior for what He has done for our souls is "O Could I Speak The Matchless Worth." The text was written by Samuel Medley, who was born on June 23, 1738, at Cheshunt in Hertfordshire, England, the son of a schoolteacher who was a friend of Isaac Newton. After a false start as an apprentice, he joined the British Royal Navy, becoming a midshipman in 1755. During his recuperation after being wounded in battle off Port Lagos in 1759, he read a sermon by Isaac Watts that led to his conversion, and he became a member of the Eagle St. (now Kingsgate) Baptist Church. Leaving the navy, he studied for the ministry under Dr. Gifford in London and in 1767 became minister with the Baptist Church in Watford, Herefordshire. In 1772, he began his ministry at Byron Street in Liverpool, Lancashire, England, where he published several hymnbooks: Hymns in 1785; Hymns on Select Portions of Scripture in 1787; Hymns (Second Edition) in 1794; and Hymns (Third Edition, subtitled The Public Worship and Private Devotions of True Christians) in 1789, which included this song under the title "Praise of Jesus."
Originally in eight stanzas beginning, "Not of terrestrial mortal themes," the modern version consists of stanzas 2, 4, 6, and 8. Other hymns by Medley that have appeared in some of our books are "Awake, My Soul, In Joyful Lays" and "I Know That My Redeemer Lives." He remained in Liverpool until his death there on July 17, 1799. The tune (Ariel) is usually attributed to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). If he did compose it, its origin among his works has never been found. The arrangement was made by Lowell Mason (1792-1872). It was first published in his 1836 Occasional Psalm and Hymn Tunes. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ during the twentieth century, the song appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 both edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1) edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; and the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch. Today it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard.
The song expresses praise to the Lord Jesus Christ for His matchless worth.
I. Stanza 1 gives praise for His glory
"O could I speak the matchless worth, O could I sound the glories forth
Which in my Savior shine!
I’d soar and touch the heavenly strings, And vie with Gabriel while He
sings In notes almost divine."
A. We sing His matchless worth when we say with the angels, "Worthy is the Lamb": Rev. 5.11-12
B. Some modern editors, apparently not liking the symbolism, have changed the latter part of the stanza to say, "I’d sing His glorious righteousness, And magnify the wondrous grace Which made salvation mine." Some among us might object to speaking of "the heavenly strings," but the book of Revelation does, symbolically, refer to heavenly beings as playing the strings of harps, as a symbol of the beauty of the praise offered to God, and the song simply uses the same language to express the author’s wish that he could join with them: Rev. 14.1-2
C. The author assumes that since Gabriel is an angel he would be joining the chorus of praise around the throne of Christ, so he expresses his wish to join him: Dan. 8.16, 9.21; Lk. 1.19, 26
II. Stanza 1 gives praise for His blood
"I’d sing the precious blood He spilt, My ransom from the dreadful guilt
Of sin and wrath divine!
I’d sing His glorious righteousness, IN which all-perfect heavenly dress
My soul shall ever shine."
A. Jesus spilt His precious blood that we might have redemption: Eph. 1.7 (Some object to the word "spilt" with reference to Jesus’s blood, saying that it implies something accidental such as spilling milk, but that is not always the case. At a dam, sometimes the operators intentionally "spill" water into a "spillway" to avoid flooding. In fact, Webster’s New International Dictionary, Second Edition, defines spill, "4, To cause or allow intentionally to flow out and be lost or wasted; to shed, as blood.")
B. This blood is our ransom from the dreadful guilt of sin: Matt. 20.28
C. This blood also makes it possible for us to be clothed in His glorious righteousness. Some might object to this language as sounding too much like the false doctrine that the personal righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer. However, the song does not actually say that and can be understood to refer to the righteousness which He Himself puts to our account and is not our own but is given by Him: Rom. 4.6, Phil. 3.9
III. Stanza 3 gives praise for His character
"I’d sing the character He bears, And all the forms of love He wears,
Exalted on His throne;
In loftiest songs of sweetest praise, I would to everlasting days Make
all His glories known."
A. The original read "characters," apparently referring to different qualities exhitibed by Christ or perhaps different roles in which He functions. Whichever is the case, His character is determined by all the forms of love that He wears: Eph. 5.2
B. His character is also demonstrated by the fact that He has been exalted on His throne: Acts 2.30-33
C. We "sing the character He bears" when we make all His glories known: Jn. 1.14
IV. Stanza 4 gives praise for His coming
"Well, the delightful day will come, When my dear Lord will bring me
home, And I shall see His face!
Then with my Savior, Brother, Friend, A blest eternity I’ll spend,
Triumphant in His grace."
A. The original began "Soon," but while "soon" could refer to the time of death when the Lord will bring us home, the stanza seems to be referring more to the time of the second coming, which no one knows, so many books change it to "Well": Matt. 24.36
B. Even though we do not know when, we do know that someday the Lord will come to raise the dead, change the living, and take us home: 1 Thess. 4.16-17
C. Then we shall have the blessed privilege of seeing His face: 1 Jn. 3.1-3
CONCL.: During the late 1800s and the early 1900s, the hymn, which is defined basically as a song of praise and is usually characterized by a shorter and statlier melody, was replaced by the gospel song, with its quicker tempo and repeated chorus, as the primary form of religious music. There is not anything necessarily wrong with gospel songs, and many of them are quite spiritual in nature. However, I firmly believe that we would do well not to forget the older hymns with which believers in ages past praised God. There are times when my heart is so filled with gladness at what my Savior has done for me that I think, "O, Could I Speak the Matchless Worth."