Behind the Hymn: Count Your Blessings
When searching for a Thanksgiving hymn, I was surprised we have not discussed this hymn yet.
Count Your Blessings is a hymn written in 1897 by Johnson Oatman, Jr. Oatman was
born on April 21, 1856 in Lumberton, NJ to Johnson and Rachel Oatman. His merchant father was considered to be the “best singer in town” although the young Johnson did not possess his father’s talent. The younger Johnson looked up to his father, who fostered his great love of church music at such an early age.
He soon left the family business for the ministry. After finishing school he went on to serve the Methodist Episcopal Church. He would travel to various churches to preach but was never considered a great preacher. He never served one church in full time ministry, but served congregations on a fill-in basis.
Johnson Oatman married Wilhelmina Reid in 1878. They had three children together.
After his father’s death and in-between churches he was in the insurance industry.
Even while serving God, Oatman still wondered if surely God and life had some other plans for him. How often have all of us wondered the same thing?
He prayed and continued to seek God’s will for his life. He longed to be a soul winner for the Lord.
At the age of 36, he discovered he had a hidden talent and could write hymns. He wrote songs almost daily, with an average of 200 songs a year and has over 5,000 hymns to his credit, including songs such as Higher Ground and No, Not One, which he claimed was his favorite. However, when forced to set a price for his hymns he refused to set anything other than $1 per hymn.
He was happy that he was able to use his musical skills to “preach the gospel”.
Given the reminder to be thankful, Count Your Blessings became a very popular hymn with the passage of time. This is no more so than around the Thanksgiving holiday.
The hymn is a song of thankfulness. Today, we often say “Count Your Blessings,” especially when a friend or loved one is struggling. However, that was not the intention of Rev. Oatman. The hymn is a reminder to take our problems and concerns to God in prayer.
Count Your Blessings first appeared in Songs for Young People published in 1897. The tune
was composed by Edwin O. Excell.
The hymn is a popular reminder of Ephesians 1:3,“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”
While the song is often sung around Thanksgiving, it is also sung throughout the rest of the year.
One writer said about Count Your Blessings,
“It is like a beam of sunlight that has brightened up the dark places of the earth.” Early on it was especially popular in Great Britain, where it was said, “The men sing it, the boys whistle it, and the women rock their babies to sleep on this hymn.” During the revival in Wales it was one of the hymns sung at every service.
Oatman’s oldest daughter, Miriam, composed music for many of her father’s hymns. He died in 1922 in Norman, Oklahoma. However,his hymns live on and he is still reaching lost souls for the Lord.
Hymn historian J.M. Hall felt no hymnal was complete without an Oatman hymn. Hall stated,“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.”
Hymn writing continues to thrive in the Oatman family. His daughter Miriam wrote many hymns and today he has a great-grandson who is also a writer.
Count Your Blessings is a standard in many hymnals.