Hymnspiration: Count Your Blessings

JohnsonOatmanToday’s hymn was written by Johnson Oatman, Jr. and set to music by Edward O. Excell.  The hymn, based on Ephesians 1:3, was first published in 1897 and considered to be the best of over five thousand songs Oatman wrote during his lifetime.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.

Johnson Oatman, Jr. was born on April 21, 1856 in New Jersey to parents Johnson and Rachel Oatman.  His father was an accomplished singer and Johnson, Jr. loved to sit beside him in church listening to him sing.  Early in his life he was involved in the family mercantile business and at the age of nineteen joined the Methodist church.  He was later licensed as a Methodist Episcopal minister although he never served as a full-time pastor, instead working with various local congregations on a fill-in basis.

Following his father’s death, Johnson worked in the insurance industry.  In 1892, at the age of thirty-six, he began writing songs – some say that he averaged writing four or five a week and rarely receiving more than one dollar per song.

Hymn historian J.M. Hall stated that while Johnson Oatman, Jr. never served in a local pastorate, “he daily preaches to a larger congregation than the pastor of any church in the land.” Through his hymns he was able to preach the Gospel “to all the world.”  Hall also remarked that he believed no hymnal was complete without one of Oatman’s hymns.

Count Your Blessings first appeared in Songs for Young People, published in 1897 by the hymn’s musical composer, Edmond O. Excell.  Excell was born in 1851 and at the age of twenty became a singing teacher, traveling around the country conducting singing schools that were popular at that time.  His association with Southern evangelist Sam Jones highlighted his  talent as a song leader.  He published over fifty song books and wrote and/or composed more than two thousand songs.

Johnson Oatman’s lyrics were always well received and perhaps none more so than Count Your Blessings.  From the book 101 Hymn Stories:

Perhaps no American hymn was ever received with such enthusiasm in Great Britain as this hymn.  The London Daily, in giving an account of a meeting presided over by Gypsy Smith, reported, “Mr. Smith announced the hymn ‘Count Your Blessings.’  Said he, in South London the men sing it, the boys whistle it, and the women rock their babies to sleep on this hymn.”  During the great revival in Wales it was one of the hymns sung at ever service along with such Welsh favorites as “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” (No. 26) and “O That Will be Glory” (No. 70).

Clearly, the song has shown evidence of worldwide appeal through the years, one writer remarking, “Like a beam of sunlight it has brightened up the dark places of the earth.”  The song was said to have been sung frequently in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001.  Interestingly, Oatman’s great grandson lives a few block from Ground Zero and is himself a talented writer.

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
when you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
count your many blessings name them one by one,
and it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done!
Are you ever burdened with a load of care?

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will be singing as the days go by.

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
count your many blessings money cannot buy
your reward in heaven nor your home on high.

So amid the conflict, whether great or small,
do not be discouraged. God is over all;
count your many blessings angels will attend,
help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

Johnson married Wilhelmina Ried on July 21, 1878 and together they had three children, a son and two daughters.  Their oldest daughter Miriam followed in her father’s footsteps and wrote hundreds of her own hymns, in addition to composing music for her father’s hymns.  Wilhelmina died in 1909, and on September 25, 1922 Johnson passed away and was buried in Lumberton, New Jersey.


Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!

© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.


1 Comment

  1. For it brings or spirits up into a better mood, and brings our hearts closer to our heavenly Feather.



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