Luther’s Influence on Church Music

I was privileged to give a talk on this topic at St. Mary’s Church, Portchester, on Reformation Sunday (29 October 2017). I took the liberty of reflecting on the role of music in worship more generally.

The text below is a transcript of the talk, with a little tidying up. The passages enclosed in square brackets are ad lib and incidental to the substance.

If you prefer, you can listen to a recording instead. Or as well as

Thank you very much for the welcome. It’s a pleasure to be here. It’s a case of buses again. Eight years I’ve been in this part of the world and visited a few times—never spoken here—now twice in two weeks. It’s a great privilege.

The making of music is such a basic human activity that it’s hard to imagine that there’s ever been a society where there wasn’t music in society that did not make music. For this reason alone, and for others, that people of God has always been a singing people. And, ironically, it is in our own time that we are experiencing a particularly low point in the history of music-making in society and in the church.

“What a lot of nonsense!” you might think. In the era of non-stop music on the radio and in shops and on transport, the technology to carry entire choirs, symphony orchestras, pop musicians, or whatever else you might fancy, in our pockets, and stream whatever we wish to hear almost anywhere we like, and whenever we like, it seems that in fact the opposite is the case. Never has there been so much music available continuously to so many people, so much of the time.

Yet in this era of commercial music we are experiencing what the BBC comedy W1A might call “more of less”. While the professionals sing them play for us, music making has become a specialised activity alongside football and chess and landscape painting, rather than what it has been throughout the history of mankind, a universal human activity in which all people participate rather than something primarily for listening to passively. We have become consumers of music rather than music-makers.

Continue reading Luther’s Influence on Church Music

Election and the Christian Life

The doctrine of election is not primarily the abstruse, difficult article of faith that most Christians – indeed, most theologians – are intimidated by (at best). Rather, in the Scriptures it is given as a source of confidence for the Christian, and a foundation of the Christian life.

Like this:

… we must always take as one unit the entire doctrine of God’s purpose, counsel, will, and ordinance concerning our redemption, call, justification, and salvation, as Paul treats and explains this article (Rom. 8:28ff.; Eph. 1:4ff.) and as Christ likewise does in the parable (Matt. 20:2–14), namely, that in his purpose and counsel God had ordained the following:

1. That through Christ the human race has truly been redeemed and reconciled with God and that by his innocent obedience, suffering, and death Christ has earned for us “the righteousness which avails before God”2 and eternal life.

2. That this merit and these benefits of Christ are to be offered, given, and distributed to us through his Word and sacraments.

3. That he would be effective and active in us by his Holy Spirit through the Word when it is preached, heard, and meditated on, would convert hearts to true repentance, and would enlighten them in the true faith.

4. That he would justify and graciously accept into the adoption of children and into the inheritance of eternal life all who in sincere repentance and true faith accept Christ.

5. That he also would sanctify in love all who are thus justified, as St. Paul says (Eph. 1:4).

6. That he also would protect them in their great weakness against the devil, the world, and the flesh, guide and lead them in his ways, raise them up again when they stumble, and comfort and preserve them in tribulation and temptation.

7. That he would also strengthen and increase in them the good work which he has begun, and preserve them unto the end, if they cling to God’s Word, pray diligently, persevere in the grace of God, and use faithfully the gifts they have received.

8. That, finally, he would eternally save and glorify in eternal life those whom he has elected, called, and justified.

Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 619.

Prayer for the Government and Those Under Authority

From Johann Gerhard (1582–1637), Meditations on Divine Mercy

Omnipotent, eternal, and merciful God, Lord of hosts, You remove kings and set up kings (Daniel 2:21). All powers in heaven and on earth are from You (Colossians 1:16). In heaven, the angels worship You, archangels praise You, thrones revere You. Governing authorities are subject to You and revere You, dominions serve You (Romans 13:1-4), the powers fear You. With these holy and most powerful spirits I join my payers, such as they are, and humbly ask You to fill our earthly government with the spirit of wisdom. Protect it with the strength of Your might. Support with Your grace all Christian rulers so the more they encounter danger because of their high position, the more they will experience the abundance of Your kindness. Kindle in their hearts the light of heavenly wisdom, so they recognize that they are subject to You, Lord of all, that they are Your vassals, and that one day they must give account for their governing.

May they strive for peace because they serve You, the Prince of Peace. May they strive for justice because they serve You, the most just Judge. May they strive to be merciful because they serve You, the kindest Father. May they be guardians of the Ten Commandments and of the Church, which is downtrodden in this world. May they show goodwill and correct judgment toward those under their authority. Draw their hearts away from the splendor of earthly and miserable power, so a forgetfulness of the heavenly kingdom and true piety does not creep up on them. Rule them by Your Holy Spirit so they do not become puffed up with pride and misuse the power granted to them. Grant that they carry out their official duties in such a way that they may rule without end in eternity with all the elect, and pass from the most fleeting glory of this age to the eternal glory of the heavenly kingdom. Prevent them from exercising tyranny over Your people so, after wearing glittering clothing and elegant gems, they do not descend, naked and wretched, to be tormented in hell.

You willed us to be subject to Your representatives. Grant to us obedient hearts. Make us ready to serve with complete willingness, so under the authority of Your representatives we may lead quiet and peaceful lives in all godliness and virtue (1 Timothy 2:1). May we show honor and obedience to those whom we acknowledge as possessing authority and power over us. May we comply with their honorable commands, so by keeping these laws we may be partakers of true liberty. True liberty is, in short, to serve God, government, and law. O kindest God, may we honor with heart, word, and deed those whom You have willed to be Your representatives on earth. May the eyes of the government leaders be watchful and observant (Proverbs 20:8). May the ears of those under their authority be open and attentive. May the gates of heaven finally be open and unobstructed to both.

AMEN.

Johann Gerhard, Meditations on Divine Mercy (tr. Matthew C Harrison; St. Louis: CPH, 2003), 138–140.

F.G. Hedberg on the New Life in Christ

So when the Apostle says that we have both died and been raised together with Christ in baptism (Col 2:12), his meaning is clearly nothing but this: We have been so truly joined to the body of the Christ who once died for our trespasses and was raised for our justification (Rom 4:25) that, on the basis of this union, we already in baptism we have received the real foundation and beginning of the death of the old man and the resurrection of the new man. … Its progression is the entire purpose and goal of the Christian life, but its fulfilment will be attained only when in true faith we depart from this life in the blessed hour, when we this body of sin is fully taken off and buried, and when it rises on the Last Day purified and glorified to eternal life.

Fredrik Gabriel Hedberg, Pyhän kasteen puolustus (Finnish translation of Baptismens vederläggning och det heliga dopets försvar [A Refutation of the Baptists and a Defence of Holy Baptism], 1855), 113.

Simojoki Family Concert

This happened today:

A lunchtime concert at Holy Trinity church in Fareham. Music by Frank Bridge, Joseph Haydn and J.S. Bach.

I’m very proud of the children (not to mention Sarah!), not just for their wonderful playing in today’s concert, but all the hard work that has enabled them to develop their God-given talents.

Hanna – Violin
Daniel – Cello
Elias – Trumpet
Markus – Viola
Sarah – Flute
TS – Piano & Organ

J.S. Bach: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (arr. T. Simojoki)

The whole concert (audio only):

Eucharistic Meditation

Give us this day our daily bread.

“Daily bread” may be understood both spiritually and simply, because both meanings help us to understand salvation. For Christ is the bread of life; and this bread is not the bread of all, but it is our bread. And as we say “our Father”, because he is the father of those who understand and believe, so too we say “our bread”, because Christ is the bread of us who touch his body. Now we ask that this bread be given us today, lest we who are in Christ and receive his Eucharist daily as the food of salvation should be separated from Christ’s body through some grave offence that prohibits us from receiving the heavenly bread. For according to his words: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

Cyprian, ‘Treatises, On the Lord’s Prayer’ 18, in Manlio Simonetti (ed.), Ancient Christian Commentary on the Scripture, New Testament Ia: Matthew 1–13 (Downers Grove: IVP), 135.

Eucharistic Meditation

Even of itself the teaching of the Blessed Paul is sufficient to give you a full assurance concerning those Divine Mysteries, of which having been deemed worthy, you have become of the same body and blood with Christ. For you have just heard him say distinctly, “that our Lord Jesus Christ on the night when He was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, He broke it, gave to His disciples and said, ‘This is my body’. And having taken and given thanks, he said, “Take, drink, this is my blood.”. Since then He Himself declared and said of the Bread, “This is My Body,” who shall dare to doubt any longer? And since He has Himself affirmed and said, “This is My Blood,” who shall ever hesitate and say that it is not His blood?

He once turned the water into wine, akin to blood, in Cana of Galilee, and is it incredible that He should have turned wine into blood? When called to an earthly wedding, He miraculously wrought that wonderful work; should we not much more confess that He has given the enjoyment of His Body and Blood to His wedding guests [Mark 2:19]?

Therefore, let us partake of the Body and Blood of Christ with full assurance: for in the figure of Bread His Body is given to you, and His Blood in the figure of Wine, so that by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, you may be made to be of the same body and the same blood with Him. For thus we come to bear Christ in us, because His Body and Blood are distributed through our members; thus it is that, according to the blessed Peter, we become partakers of the divine nature [2 Peter 1:4].
Cyril of Jerusalem, ‘The Mysteries’ IV.2. Adapted from Philip Schaff (ed.), Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, Vol. 7 (New York: Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1893), 151.

Eucharistic Meditation

The word cup is to be understood as the perfect grace of charity by which the strength for undergoing suffering for the name of Christ is infused. This is given in such way that even if the opportunity by which anyone may undergo suffering for Christ is lacking, there is still such great strength in the heart by a divine gift that nothing is lacking for putting up with punishment, scorning life and undergoing death for the name of Christ. This is well understood in that text in the psalm where it is said, “My cup overflows,” and he had just said before, “You anoint my head with oil.” What must be understood by “head anointed with oil” except a mind strengthened by the gift of the Holy Spirit? The shining quality of this oil is the unconquerable fortitude of spiritual grace by which the holy drunkenness is poured into the inner depths of the heart so that every affection of the heart, overcome, is consigned to oblivion. Filled with this drunkenness, the spirit learns to rejoice always in the Lord and to consign to contempt whatever he loved in the world. We drink this drunkenness when, having received the Holy Spirit, we possess the grace of perfect charity that drives out fear.

Fulgentius: Selected Works. The Fathers of the Church, Volume 95 (Washington: Catholic University of America, 1997), 557–8; quoted in Craig A. Blaising & Carmen S. Hardin, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture; Old Testament VII: Psalms 1–50 (Downers Grove: IVP, 2008), 182.

Eucharistic Meditation

But see how beautifully [king David] can speak! “I am,” he says, “the Lord’s sheep; He feeds me in a green pasture.” For a natural sheep nothing can be better than when its shepherd feeds it in pleasant green pastures and near fresh water. Where that happens to it, it feels that no one on earth is richer and more blessed than it is. For it finds there whatever it might desire: fine, lush, heavy grass, from which it will grow strong and fat; fresh water, with which it can refresh and restore itself whenever it likes; and it has its joy and pleasure there, too. At this point David would also say that God had shown him no greater grace and blessing on earth than this, that he was permitted to be at a place and among people where God’s Word and dwelling place and the right worship were to be found. Where these treasures are found, there things prosper well, both in the spiritual and in the secular realm. It is as if he were saying: “All people and kingdoms on earth are nothing. They may be richer, more powerful, and more splendid than we Jews, and they may also boast mightily of what they have. Moreover, they may glory in their wisdom and holiness, for they, too, have gods whom they serve. But with all their glory and splendour they are a mere desert and wilderness. For they have neither shepherd nor pasture, and therefore the sheep must go astray, famish, and perish. But though we are surrounded by many deserts, we can sit and rest here, safe and happy in Paradise and in a pleasant green pasture, where there is an abundance of grass and of fresh water and where we have our Shepherd near us, who feeds us, leads us to the watering place, and protects us. Therefore we cannot want.”

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 12: Selected Psalms I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 160–161.

Eucharistic Meditation

We, therefore, are taught, through the slight want of faith shown by the blessed Thomas, that the mystery of the Resurrection is effected upon our earthly bodies, and in Christ as the firstfruits of the race. He was no phantom or ghost, fashioned in human shape, and simulating the features of humanity, nor yet, as others have foolishly surmised, a spiritual body that is compounded of a subtle and ethereal substance different from the flesh. For some attach this meaning to the expression “spiritual body”. For since all our expectation and the significance of our irrefutable faith, after the confession of the Holy and Consubstantial Trinity, centres in the mystery concerning the flesh, the blessed Evangelist has very pertinently put this saying of Thomas side by side with the summary of what preceded. For observe that Thomas does not desire simply to see the Lord, but looks for the marks of the nails, that is, the wounds upon His Body. For he affirmed that then, indeed, he would believe and agree with the rest that Christ had indeed risen again, and risen again in the flesh. For that which is dead may rightly be said to return to life, and the Resurrection surely was concerned with that which was subject unto death

‘Commentary on the Gospel of John’ 12.1. Commentary on the Gospel according to S. John, S. Cyril Archbishop Of Alexandria Vol. II: S. John IX—XXI. A Library Of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, Anterior To The Division Of The East And West. Translated By Members Of The English Church (London: Walter Smith, 1885), 682–3.