A Devotion for 11 December 2020 Anno Domini, the Anglican Orthodox Communion Worldwide
10 But none saith, Where is God my maker, who giveth songs in the night; 11 Who teacheth us more than the beasts of the earth, and maketh us wiser than the fowls of heaven? 12 There they cry, but none giveth answer, because of the pride of evil men. 13 Surely God will not hear vanity, neither will the Almighty regard it.
It is reasonable to assume that the songs God gives in the night were not the silly little Beetles song, “Hard Day’s Night, or, the sensual words of Kristofferson, “Help me Make it Through the Night:”
I don’t care what’s right or wrong
I won’t try to understand
Let the devil take tomorrow
But tonight I need a friend.
You will note that the music gives perfect expression to the depravity stated in the lyrics. Music has power on its own right – either to uplift and inspire or to demoralize and turn the mind to things unprofitable. Unfortunately, modern music, for the most part, is wholly of the latter nature.
The songs that God gives are songs of beauty, radiance, and truth. They may be sung among the young as well as the elderly. They convey power and love. The Book of Psalms is the gift of God’s songs among others in Holy Scripture. These were the first ‘hymns’ sung in the ancient church. You may recall that the singing of Godly praise was the manner in which God defeated the enemies of Israel (Moab, Ammon, and Seir) under their Godly King Jehoshaphat. “And they rose early in the morning, and went forth into the wilderness of Tekoa: and as they went forth, Jehoshaphat stood and said, Hear me, O Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem; Believe in the LORD your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper. And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed singers unto the LORD, and that should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army, and to say, Praise the LORD; for his mercy endureth for ever. And when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten. For the children of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of mount Seir, utterly to slay and destroy them: and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, every one helped to destroy another. And when Judah came toward the watch tower in the wilderness, they looked unto the multitude, and, behold, they were dead bodies fallen to the earth, and none escaped.” 2 Chron 20:20-24 God takes song and music of praise and worship quite seriously, doesn’t He?
The greatest musicians of the past drew their inspiration from God, not the whims of a decadent society. IT is unlikely that the so-called ‘Dixie Chics’ or the ‘Grateful Dead’ drew any inspiration from the Divine Sovereign at all but rather from the Prince of the Air. The music itself – not only the lyrics – has moral value. Allow me to share examples: What emotion is provoked by the ‘National Anthem’ played instrumentally? Or, the great hymn, ‘O Worship the King?’ Or. Jesus Loves Me?’ How do you feel at the sound of heavy metal music – does it imbue the soul with a sense of peace and comfort, or some other emotion? How about rap music, or some other venue of the streets? I do not believe God had these latter classes of noise in mind when He gave us songs in the night. The purpose of all fine arts is to give praise and worship to the Lord of Creation whether in music, painting, sculpture, or some other. True art attempts to reflect the beauty of God’s Creation. Neither Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, nor Beethoven’s Ode to Joy evoke any man’s honor but only the love and praise of Almighty God. “Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage. 55 I have remembered thy name, O LORD, in the night, and have kept thy law. 56 This I had, because I kept thy precepts. Psalm 119:54-56
When the heart is heavy and the troubles of life crash against our souls as the billows of the sea, to which genre of music do we turn? To which words do we search out for the comfort of our souls? To which hymn did the perishing souls of the Titanic turn when considering their last moments of life? “Nearer, my God, to thee, Nearer to Thee.” “I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search” Psalms 77:6 “Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage. 55 I have remembered thy name, O LORD, in the night, and have kept thy law. 56 This I had, because I kept thy precepts.” Psalm 119:54-56
Johann Sebastian Bach is considered the greatest musical composer of all time. His chorals’ and cantatas have survived the centuries owing to their undying beauty and quality. Bach never took credit for his talents, but rather give all praise and glory to God. “Where there is devotional music, God is always at hand with His gracious presence,” said this master of the church classics of the Baroque Period. In fact, Bach inscribed at the beginning of each musical score the letters, JJ, meaning, “Help me, Jesus. At the page end of his music, Bach appended the letters, SDG – solely to the Glory of God Alone.
Bach passed into the presence of his Lord and his God at the age of sixty-five, blind and without great popular acclaim. His last work, which he composed while blind to a secretary, was “Before Thy Throne I Now Appear!”
Below I have noted other great composers whose works are admired today by millions around the world:
George Frédéric Handel, author of Handel’s Messiah, said of his musical talent: “It pleased the Almighty, to whose great Holy Will I submit myself with Christian submission.” At the final writing of the Messiah, Handel’s servant burst into the room where Handel had secluded himself for seventeen days bringing food. He found the composer with tears streaming down his face. Handel cried out, “I did think I saw all Heaven before me, and the Great God Himself.” I share that same sentiment at hearing the thunderous conclusion of Messiah – the Hallelujah Chorus.
Franz Joseph Haydn: he was once criticized for writing music that was unreasonably cheerful. Haydn responded: “Since God has given me a cheerful heart, He will forgive me for serving Him cheerfully.” A man of Godly disposition. He once encountered a beggar on the streets of Vienna. Haydn had no money but invited the beggar to a coffee house where he sat down and wrote a musical composition which he gave to the beggar. He instructed him to take the work to his publisher who gave the happy beggar five guineas.
Ludwig van Beethoven: an admirer of Bach and one who considered Handel to be the greatest of all time, The piano movements of Beethoven are unsurpassed in all music. His greatest composition was the 9th symphony which concludes with ‘Ode to Joy the 5th movement.’ Beethoven composed this exceptional piece shortly before his death and, most remarkably, after some ten years of being deaf. Much of his strong religious convictions may be found in his diary which he kept the last years of his life as a means of communication in writing with others. In one of his many references to faith, he wrote, “In whatsoever manner it be, let me turn to Thee and become fruitful in good works.”
Felix Mendelssohn: another admirer of Bach, Mendelssohn discovered many forgotten manuscripts of the music of Bach and brought them to public acclaim in the nineteenth century. He was of some Jewish descent but discovered Bach’s St. Matthews Passion by Bach. He was enthralled by the score and memorized the entire content. Mendelssohn despite his Jewish blood, was a devoted Christian. He wrote in his journal, “Pray to God that He may create in us a clean heart and renew a right spirit within us.” The author of such musical classics as Ave Maria, Mendelssohn believed the Bible to be the very preserved Word of God and held any in disdain who tried to amend small meanings in it. Upon being lavishly praised by the Pietist movement, Mendelssohn responded: “So I am said to be a saint! If this is intended to convey what I conceive to be the meaning of the word, and what your expressions lead me to think you also understand by it, then I can only say, alas! I am not so, though every day of my life I strive with great earnestness, according to my ability, more and more to resemble this character. I know indeed that I can never hope to be altogether a saint, but if I ever approach to being one, it will be well.” Mendelssohn continued:
“If people, however, understand by the word ‘saint’ a Pietist, one of those who lay their hands on their laps and expect that Providence will do their work for them, and who, instead of striving in their vocation to press on toward perfection, talk of a heavenly calling being incompatible with an earthly one, and are incapable of loving with their whole hearts any human being, or anything on earth, then God be praised! Such a one I am not, and hope never to become, so long as I live. And though I am sincerely desirous to live piously, and really to be so, I hope this does not necessarily entail the other character.”
I could continue, ad infinitum, to extol the virtues and character of the great composers of the past. Many who are just as deserving of these few I have mentioned have been omitted mention for lack of time and scope of a devotion, but, God be praised, that true worship and praise music is not of the fluffy and silly fashion that we witness in many churches today that constantly boasts of one’s personal blessings without mention of the Benefactor.