Most of our peeps below the clouds will stop short of our era. This will help us see contemporary music in an historical perspective. Some of us seem to imagine that God has been on vacation from the closing of the New Testament until this century! And neither are our trials unique to our era. Consider, for example, Ira Sankey and his old-fashioned Gospel Songs.
Even a Christian heavy metal band has a greater kinship with D. L. Moody's soloist, Ira Sankey (1840-1908) than most of us would imagine - including bitter opposition from seemingly pious sections of the church. His music was so much like the popular secular music of the day that, wrote one journalist, ' ... it is sometimes difficult to realise that what we hear is sacred song ...'
Many lovers of classical music would regard Sankey's simple gospel songs as lightweight, yet, according to one estimate, in just one year more people heard Sankey sing than listened to actual performances of Bach's works during the entire nineteenth century. In the first fifty years, sales of his collection of hymns have been estimated at between fifty and eighty million copies.
Many of us locked into contemporary music would suspect that the secret of Sankey's popularity was that people were starved of modern alternatives. That's a factor I cannot entirely dismiss, but there are many other factors. Pollock observes that Sankey is judged harshly today because his song book was published before the snail of time could kill off the inferior songs and because we have heard only poor imitators of this great soloist. I would add that a song droned by a sparse congregation in a dead church service soars to a new dimension when sung enthusiastically by a packed church that really loves the Lord and enjoys the music.
Fashion, however, is probably the most significant factor in tainting our evaluation. Familiarity and the opinion of others does strange things to our tastes. Put aside the emotive issue of music and consider how we find clothing and hairstyle fashions of the past to be weird, inferior, laughable - until they again come in vogue in our own era! We rarely have objective reason for scorning past fashions.
We should try to not despise musical styles different to our own.
For example, If your musical style is blasted by pious individuals,
you have more in common with Moody's singer, Ira Sankey, than
you might realise.
An Everyday Miracle
A London newspaper editor trudged through the rain. Suddenly, a hymn tune split the gloom. A boy was whistling. As the notes continued, the editor's mind instinctively added the words as vividly and uncontrollably as if the whistling boy were shouting them:
'My Jesus I love thee, I know Thou art mine ...'
Grey skies suddenly lost their power to weigh him down. The editor's spirit soared heavenwards. Sacred music had touched a weary heart. So moved was he that he later described the incident in his influential editorial.
The miracle hardly lies in the uniqueness of this experience. Rather, the astounding thing is that everyday vast numbers of people from all walks of life are similarly transported by this powerful force.
The whole point of this chapter is that with few exceptions the events described, no matter how dramatic, can be repeated over and over.
Without faith surging through your spirit, your music is a rocket without fuel. With little faith, little happens in the spiritual realm. So, as with the rest of this book, let each incident in this chapter boost your faith in God's ability to empower your music for His glory. Musical miracles are within your grasp. Empowered by believing prayer, your music can reproduce the results described.
A Memory Pill
An elderly man described in a British newspaper the amazing ability of music to evoke memories. His son died in the war. On the last night they were together they sang a hymn.
Whenever he hears this particular hymn, wrote the man, he can vividly recall his son's voice and features but, much to his dismay, the memory of his son dramatically fades as soon as the hymn ends.
It Sticks Like Chewing Gum To The Soul
Coerced into attending one of Moody's meetings, a man obtained a song book and sat down.
The singing of a particular hymn, however, was too much. He stormed out in disgust, declaring he had 'never heard such twaddle'.
He opted to drown the memory with whisky. The first bar didn't work, so he tried another hotel - and another. At home, with that exasperating ditty still clanging in his mind, he ripped the song out of the hymn book and threw it into the fire. But that 'twaddle' refused to die. It kept buzzing around in his head like an infuriating fly that just wouldn't be shooed away. A nagging spouse would have been more considerate! Night and day it haunted and harassed him until finally he surrendered, and made peace with God.
Then a strange thing happened: that horrid song became the most precious in the book!
A young lady was persuaded to attend a mission service. Apparently unmoved, she arose to leave as soon as the sermon finished. As she walked towards the door, however, she found herself gripped by the words the choir was singing. It hit her that she was the 'lost one' they were singing about. Before the night was over she was on her knees praying the words of the song and finding salvation.
A Godly Addiction
Thomas Hornblower Gill was brought up a Unitarian. However, he loved the Isaac's Watts' hymns. This gradually lured him away from his sect until finally he fully embraced orthodox Christianity.
Dr. Frederick Faber, a convert to Roman Catholicism lamented the
fact that many Catholics delighted in Protestant hymns. He confessed
that these very hymns had earlier held a spell-like influence
over him, for years acting as 'a counter-influence to very grave
convictions' and keeping him within the Protestant fold. 'Even
now,' he wrote, these hymns 'come back from time to time unbidden
into the mind.'
Two Americans were gambling in a drinking house near Hong Kong. Absent-mindedly, one of them started humming a tune as the other shuffled the cards. Suddenly, the dealer threw down the cards and demanded to know where Harry had learnt the tune.
'I dunno,' came the offhanded reply. No doubt, the melody which was surfacing had been buried in his hardened heart sometime during his childhood. Had he realised its religious connotations, he would probably have stifled his humming.
Deeply moved, the dealer recited some of the lines to Harry. It was a simple hymn, merely saying that each day brings us closer to our heavenly reward. Hardly earth-shaking. Within seconds, however, Harry found his sizeable gambling losses thrust into his hand. His former drinking partner began confessing his sins, pronounced an end to his drinking and gambling, and urged Harry to join him in his new commitment.
Eyewitness, Col. Russel Conwell later received a letter from one of them confirming that the repentance of both men was genuine and permanent.
All because of a half-forgotten hymn tune. Those two men owe their
spiritual lives to the power of music.
It Gives Words Wings
In contrast to the above incident, a Jewess owed her conversion to a hymn's lyrics without even hearing the tune. She came across a parcel wrapped in printed paper. The words of Isaac Watts' hymn caught her eye and later captured her heart:
'Not all the blood of beasts
On Jewish altar slain ...'
'Music wasn't involved in this conversion,' someone objects. My view is quite the opposite. It was as a hymn that the words were published. I suggest that only because the words were wedded to music could they have multiplied sufficiently to reach the lady. As a mere poem, far fewer copies would have been printed. Music acted as a catalyst, increasing the demand for the words and thus silently propelled them to the Jewess.
James Montgomery said his hymn 'For ever with the Lord' had gained
him more favourable comments than anything he had ever written,
except for his work on prayer. Yet for quarter of a century it
merely gathered dust until a tune helped it receive recognition.
The Christian Alternative To Spinach
If only Popeye the Sailor had realised the power of Christian music. He could have had his incredible strength without assaulting his taste buds with slime-coloured snail-food.
Rev. Manton Smith hired a rowing boat to visit an island on the west coast of Scotland. All went well until they tried to row back. A contrary wind made progress extremely difficult. Hart's account of the incident suggests there may have been some danger.
Rev. Smith began singing an old gospel song to the oarsman. The words, written years earlier for their spiritual meaning fitted the circumstances so well that they could have been written for that very occasion:
'Light in the darkness, sailor, day is at hand! ...
Pull for the shore, sailor, pull for the shore!
Heed not the rolling waves, but bent to the oar.'
The writer, P. P. Bliss, would no doubt have been surprised to see his words taken so literally. Nevertheless, when at last they reached the shore, the boatman declared, 'It was the song that did it!'
If this incident seems trivial, you might be more impressed by the effect this same hymn had on shipwreck victims forced to row a badly leaking lifeboat two hundred miles in freezing conditions. Of the fourteen men, one woman and a young child, six died before reaching the safety of the Falklands. For the last seven days they had no food at all. Survivors claimed the hymn inspired them, filling them with the courage and strength to press on day after day.
Still dubious? Good! That's all the excuse I need to share two more, strikingly similar instances when a godly song physically strengthened people in perilous circumstances.
Emily Beck was returning from a holiday in Cuba when her ship, the Morro Castle, caught fire. Terrified, she obeyed the order to don a life-jacket and plunged into the sea. At that critical moment a hymn flooded her mind. Though numb with the cold and often near unconsciousness, she sang that hymn of devotion hour after hour. She afterwards testified how, like perhaps nothing else could, that song sustained her until she was finally rescued.
Leaping flames forced passengers of another ill-fated ship, the Seawamhaka, to hurl themselves into turbulent seas. One of them, upon reaching his struggling wife, told her to hold on to him. This she did until, nearing total exhaustion, she cried that she couldn't hold on any longer.
In desperation, the man suggested they sing 'Rock of Ages.' Soon, other drowning passengers caught up the hymn, finding fresh hope and strength. With almost superhuman endurance, they continued singing until help arrived. A survivor claimed that more than one life had been saved by a hymn that day.
Convinced? What a pity! I'd love to tell you about the time John
Wesley, wanting to sail despite a severe storm, reversed the decision
of fearful fishermen by singing them a hymn. I could write about
the time sacred music strengthened ... but let's move on to yet
another aspect of this powerful force.
More Lives Saved
One night, during the American Civil War, a depressed, on-duty sentry sang a hymn, unaware that an enemy soldier was lurking in the shadows. A musket was poised. The sentry's heart was in its sights.
'Cover my defenceless head ...,' sang the sentry. Touched by the song, the soldier lowered his weapon and slunk away.
Eighteen years later, when the two men chanced to meet in peacetime, the ex-sentry was still singing this same hymn. Upon recognising the voice, the former enemy confessed. Only then did he learn that he owed his life to a hymn. The life that had been saved was none other than Ira Sankey's.
With menacing spears, hostile natives surrounded E. P. Scott. He had been warned against going there alone, but these primitives needed Christ. They had never even heard of the One who had died for them.
What could he do? He didn't even know their language. Closing his eyes in prayer, he raised his violin and sang. 'All hail the power of Jesus' name ... Let every kindred, every tribe ... to Him all majesty ascribe.'
He opened his eyes. Every spear had been lowered. Brown cheeks were wet with tears. The missionary was welcomed into the tribe and for two and a half fruitful years shared with them the love of Christ. Hundreds were converted.
Scottish evangelist, Duncan Matthison, was working in the Crimea. Conditions were appalling and no end to the siege was in sight.
He gave half a sovereign to a shivering soldier whose bare toes were poking through his boots. The soldier could now buy some much-needed boots. Thanking him, he told the missionary he was no longer the man he was yesterday. He confided that he was so overcome by the oppressive circumstances that he had been about to kill himself when he heard someone singing a hymn. It had transformed his whole outlook.
It turned out that Mr. Matthison had been the singer. As soon
as he discovered this, the grateful soldier, with tears in his
eyes, returned the half-sovereign, saying, 'Never, sir, can I
take it from you after what you have been the means of doing for
While a young executive was writing a suicide note he decided to flick the radio switch. Over the waves came the words:
'God understands your heartache,
He knows the bitter pain;
O, trust Him in the darkness
You cannot trust in vain.'
Like me, you have probably heard similar stories, but here's the
rub: 'If that had been a preacher,' said the man later, 'I would
have turned him off, but that song ... broke me.'
A Healing Balm
A man had lost his speech as a result of shell shock suffered during the war. One Sunday, he got so caught up with a congregation singing Psalm 100 that he actually joined them, thus regaining his speech.
A lady, stricken with tuberculosis, for months appeared to be making no moves toward recovery. In her weakened, discouraged condition, even thinking, let alone reading or needlework seemed too much effort. But a song reached her. She overheard a little girl singing to her dolly, 'Jesus bids us shine.'
It proved to be the turning point. She later testified how this simple song transformed her attitude and set her on a steady path to full health and joy.
On October 18th., 1966, Mrs. I. D. Bull was involved in a serious car accident. A pastors' conference was quickly notified and they started interceding. While travelling unconscious in an ambulance, Mrs. Bull saw what looked like a high class orchestra playing what she calls 'the most exquisite music one could ever wish to hear.' The tune seemed new, but the style approximated to classical music and seemed to be within the capabilities of an earthly orchestra.
In hospital, Mrs. Bull was diagnosed as having three cracked ribs and injury to her spine and neck, in addition to concussion. Pastor Peter Vacca visited her and prayed that there would be no bone injury and that the x-rays would be perfectly clear. Despite the initial diagnosis, the words of the pastor's prayer proved to be the exact words used by the doctor after examining the x-rays.
Mrs. Bull was discharged with instructions to lie flat for three days and warnings that she would suffer extreme headaches and vomiting. Instead, she immediately travelled one hundred and forty miles by car and experienced none of the predicted ill effects.
Sister Bull believes the orchestra she saw symbolised the pastors at the conference harmonising in prayer on her behalf as she travelled to hospital.
Mrs. Bull may not necessarily have seen a heavenly orchestra, but how wonderful of the Creator of music to give such a precious experience to someone in the midst of such a traumatic ordeal. There may also have been great curative power in that music, both psychologically and cerebrally.
I suggest that in response to prayer, the Lord dramatically healed this lady and that the great Physician elected to use music to effect at least part of this healing.
John Cornthwaite asked for special prayer that his wife might be able to speak with their son on Mother's Day. Val had not seen Peter for years, except through a slit in the venetian blinds. She was so incurable and so chronically ill that even her doctor went for years without seeing her. It was believed the trauma of moving her to hospital would kill her. She could not endure the slightest noise, could not raise her head above her pillow, could not be moved to another room, could not read, could speak only a sentence or two and then be too exhausted to speak for another four hours, could not even say the Lord's prayer in her mind without breaking it into eight parts. Space forbids an adequate description of what she had endured over the previous nine years.
Early in the morning the day before Mother's Day, the Lord miraculously touched her. She was able to speak with her son on Mother's Day and do many things for the first time in years. She was, nonetheless, still bedridden.
Three months later, at 5.30 in the morning the Lord visited Val again. He told her to ask John to put on music. Until then, music had been too much for her brain to cope with. John put on a tape of Evie Tornquist singing of Jesus' unfailing love. He walked back to Val and knelt by the side of the bed. They had not listened to music together for over nine years. Tears of joy streamed down their faces. Suddenly, the volume jumped. That's strange ... The sound remained at this level, then surged louder still. 'You're not touching the volume control!' yelled Val, astonished. The room was filled with what to both of them seemed unnaturally loud music - louder than anything they had ever experienced (and John used to work in a disco). Not since he bought that high quality stereo years earlier, nor in the years since, has it ever wavered in volume.
The next thing John knew, Val, still on her bed, had thrown off her quilt and her legs were moving slowly and gracefully to the music. 'The Lord is moving my legs!' she shouted as her legs continued to move involuntarily. They stared wide-eyed at those white emaciated legs that had hung useless for years. All the muscle had long since wasted away, leaving behind two knees that looked enormous relative to the rest of the skin-covered bones she called legs. And now those legs were moving!
After this the Lord started to build up her muscles. Val would get a feeling that certain parts of her body would be exercised. She would switch on the stereo and in time with the music those parts would begin moving, as if manipulated by an invisible physiotherapist. Every day healing hands that were neither seen nor felt would exercise various muscles - arms, legs, neck - each moving without Val's conscious control in graceful time to the music.
John and Val are now my treasured friends. Their amazing story has all the elements of a best-seller and they have approached me about devoting an entire book to their miracle.
Not to be sold. © Copyright 1986, Grantley Morris. May be freely copied in whole or in part provided: it is not altered; this entire paragraph is included; readers are not charged; if used in a webpage, the new page is significantly different to this one. Many more compassionate, inspiring, sometimes hilarious writings available free online at www.net-burst.net Freely you have received, freely give.
For use outside these limits, consult the author.
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