The Quest for Music Miracles
© Copyright, Grantley Morris All rights reserved
Music’s Power Confirmed
The Agony And The Ecstasy
If anyone reminds me of a modern apostle Paul, it is Rev. V. A. Thampy of India. Many times, his evangelistic zeal has exposed him to suffering and great danger.
Early in his Christian experience he was stoned and left for dead. While unconscious, what seemed like angelic voices sang in his mind, ‘I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back’.
If that’s too ordinary for you, wait until you hear this: Rev. Thampy insists he had never heard that hymn before. He came from a pagan family and was startled when he later heard Christians singing the song he had assumed was known only to angels. If God uses human music in churches and such music is precious to Him, why should He not use it when human singers are unavailable?
Whatever the explanation, a severely persecuted young man regained consciousness, overawed by a song and determined that there would be ‘no turning back’.
New convert, Martha Thompson, was filled with rapturous joy upon the singing of the closing song in one of John Wesley’s meetings. Afterwards, at her work she was heard constantly singing this hymn until finally she was committed to a lunatic asylum for her ‘abnormal’ behavior. Weeks later, she managed to get a letter to Wesley, who secured her release.
One would have thought this dreadful experience would have ended her attachment to this particular song. Yet, decades later, upon her death-bed she gathered her children and grandchildren and requested they sing this very hymn. Not even the horror of an eighteenth century asylum had been able to diminish the blessing associated with that hymn.
In anguish, the crew of a British battleship helplessly watched their comrades suffer greatly on the shore at Gallipoli. Were the ship to fire at the enemy, they would kill their own men.
One of the crew began singing a well-known chorus, ‘For you I am praying.’ Soon others joined in until, even above the sound of the battle, the melody reached the fighting men.
Later, a horribly wounded lad, his legs shot away, was being attended
to. Despite his pain, all he could talk about was the effect that
chorus had upon him and his fellow soldiers.
When an Englishman asked if the Welsh revival would reach London, Evan Roberts replied with a smile, ‘Can you sing?’ ‘Such marvelous singing, quite extempore, could only be created by a supernatural power, and that power the divine Holy Spirit,’ wrote eyewitness, David Matthews. ‘No choir, no conductor, no organ – just spontaneous, unctionized soul-singing . . .’
From the song of the morning stars celebrating creation’s inception (Job 38:7) to the fanfare trumpeting Christ’s triumphant return, ( 1 Thessalonians 4:16 – note also Matthew 24:31; 1 Corinthians 15:52) music seems divinely ordained to usher in new eras. Since the previous chapter, you have had a chance to ponder this notion. I won’t attempt a full list, but have you considered: the song of Moses composed when Israel entered a new epoch by escaping Egypt; ( Exodus 15:1-21; Psalm 105:43; 106:11-12) the music of the prophetic bands; ( For example, 1 Samuel 10:5) David’s total restructuring of sacred music in preparation for the building of the temple; ( 1 Chronicles 25, etc.) the re-establishment of temple music during the reformations initiated by godly kings; ( For example, 2 Chronicles 30:9,12,21 – note also 2 Chronicles 23:11-13. It has been suggested that from David onwards, every major religious reformation in the Old Testament involved the restoration of Levitical music – 2 Chronicles 29:25; 34:12; 35:15; Ezra 3:10) the lack of music during the exile, ( Psalm 137:1-6) in contrast to the Jews’ return to Israel ‘with singing;’ ( Isaiah 35:6,10; Jeremiah 31:1,4; 33:11; Ezra 3:10-11; Nehemiah 12:27 ff; 13:10-11 – note also Isaiah 30:26,29,32) the songs heralding Christ’s birth? ( Luke 2:13-14; 1:46-55; 68-79; 2:29-32) Then, in the outpouring of the Spirit in the church’s earliest history, there’s the use of new terms (‘spiritual songs,’ singing ‘with the spirit’) to describe what must certainly have been a new type of song (see also 1 Corinthians 14:26).
This correlation between new moves of God and new songs continues outside of the Bible, climaxing in the prophesied ‘new song’ in the age to come ( Revelation 14:3). Dr. Schaff notes that not only were the great revivals of the Reformation, Pietism, Moravianism and Methodism ‘sung as well as preached,’ the leaders of each of these revivals ‘were themselves hymnists’. Again, the founding of the Salvation Army meant the development of new musical expressions of old truths, and the founder himself contributed to the movement’s songs. Moody’s enormous influence in Great Britain was inseparably linked with the introduction of Gospels songs. Until then, especially in Scotland, anything but metrical versions of the Psalms was banned in very many churches.
In a Northern Ireland revival in the mid-nineteen century, music played an unexpected role. The move of God so affected the crime rate that the police formed quartets and sang in churches in an attempt to find something to do!
Far from being an insignificant consequence of new moves of God, however, music was often in the forefront, actually helping to carry the revival. Brown and Butterworth strongly support an oft-quoted observation of Coleridge that Luther’s hymns accomplished as much for the Reformation as did his translation of the Bible into German. A moment’s reflection will confirm the enormity of this statement. A return to the Bible was at the very heart of the Reformation. Moreover, Luther’s Bible translation has been called ‘one of the greatest human achievements of all time’. Yet music is seen to have rivalled even this as a means of spreading the Reformation.
Even without the wisdom of hindsight, the centrality of music to the reformation was widely recognized by contemporaries. ‘We seek poets everywhere,’ wrote Luther about the importance he placed upon obtaining suitable songs. On the other side, Roman Catholic monks said, ‘Luther has done us more harm by his songs than his sermons’.
Likewise, the songs of the Wesleyan revival are claimed to have had a greater impact than even the sermons and Biblical expositions.
New moves of God have generally had songs which were not only of recent origin, but were of a new type. Thus, Dr. A. E. Gregory believes he can see in many of Wesley’s hymns a style designed to arouse the attention of casual passers-by. Open-air meetings played an important part in the Wesleyan revival.
Salvation Army songs, with their military symbolism and different tempo, fitted this movement’s needs better than any other type.
For the Charismatic Movement, Scripture choruses, markedly different from hymns, were an ideal vehicle for introducing a new form of worship and a renewed emphasis upon taking Scripture at face value.
In the hands of God, music can not only transform individual lives,
it can shape entire movements and fan the fires of mass revival.
Today, few people who sing his songs are aware that Isaac Watts had significant abilities in addition to hymn-writing. His songs have outlasted his other achievements. As illustrated by the following quotes, there is little in the whole of Christendom that can rival the durability and worth of good music.
When delivering his brother’s obituary, John Wesley declared that Charles’ ‘. . . least praise was his talent for poetry . . .’ Many who have studied his life agree, yet it is for this very ability that posterity remembers this remarkable man.
James Montgomery, a poet of uncommon ability, was asked which of his works would ‘live’. ‘None,’ came the reply, ‘except for a few of my hymns.’ At the time, few would have believed him, yet his prediction proved remarkably accurate. On another occasion, Montgomery wrote that he would rather be the anonymous author of a few hymns that were permanently embraced by God’s people than be ranked with the greatest poets the world has seen.
According to Lord Shaftesbury, if Ira Sankey had done nothing but teach the hymn ‘Hold the fort,’ he had bestowed upon the British Empire a blessing of incalculable worth.
Henry Ward Beecher said he would rather have written the hymn Jesus, Lover of my soul ‘than to have the fame of all the kings that ever sat on the earth. It is more glorious. It has more power in it. That hymn will go on singing until the last trump brings forth the angel band; and then, I think, it will mount up on some lip to the very presence of God.’
Moody’s musical limitations were such that he was moved to tears
by what he imagined to be his daughter’s-in-law rendition of Rock
of Ages. She had mischievously played a soulful rendition
of Yankee-Doodle! Yet this gifted evangelist was not so
easily fooled about the power of music to out-run the spoken word.
When asked why he placed so much emphasis upon getting his audience
to sing heartily, he indicated that whilst they would soon forget
what he said, Gospel songs would have a more permanent impact.
Fanny Crosby’s prayer was that her hymns would play a key role
in the conversion of one million people. Many believe her target
has already been passed, and the work of her songs is still far
from over. Her remarkable ministry did not commence until the
age of forty-four when she wrote her first hymn. 8,000 more were
Dobry couldn’t pay the rent. The German peasant and his family were about to be cast into the snow. After prayer, they in faith sang a hymn, an English version of which contains the line ‘And all things serve Thy might.’
Before completing the song, there was a tap on the window. It
was a pet raven. In its beak was a costly ring. With his pastor’s
help, the ring was traced to King Stanislaus. Upon hearing this
amazing story, the king richly rewarded the honest peasant and
built him a house. Inscribed over the door were the words of the
hymn and a representation of a raven with a ring in its bill:
an apt testimony to the way a hymn, sung in faith to the Lord
of Creation, was so remarkably fulfilled.
Luther was inspired to commence hymn-writing by two young martyrs singing praises to God while being burnt alive for their reformed faith.
According to Beattie, the playing of Nearer my God to Thee’
enabled passengers on the ‘Titanic’ to die with dignity. Some
researchers dispute this particular instance, but the role of
music in comforting countless dying Christians is beyond dispute.
Suffice to say that reports, a few of which are alluded to in
chapter two, suggest that God Himself sometimes applies this refreshing
balm – caressing the minds of His beloved with heavenly strains
as life ebbs away.
Music can reduce susceptibility to hypothermia and boost the body’s immune system. It has also demonstrably improved both the quality and quantity of milk produced by lactating mothers in third-world countries. It has been reported to ease hunger pains in malnourished children and there is strong evidence that music can actually lower infant mortality rates.
The mechanism by which these little-recognized powers of music operate is fully understood – money! The dramatic changes referred to above were accomplished, not by some mysterious force, but by the use of music in fund-raising. I trust that your interest in the relief of human suffering has not waned now that the link between music and the wondrous results seem less astonishing.
Handel understood. The first performance of his Messiah
secured the release of 142 people from debtor’s prison. Subsequent
performances not only – in the view of Myers – probably did more
to convince multitudes of the reality of God than ‘all the theological
works ever written,’ but the proceeds fed, clothed and housed
Like everything else he does, Satan’s use of music is much less
powerful than God’s. Nevertheless, if we let him, he will use
this force for his own perverted ends. So one role of Christian
music is to displace worldly music. This use of music is not some
crack-pot idea dreamed up in the last decade. It was even one
of Luther’s motivations in writing hymns. He wished to provide
youths with something to counter the corrupting influence of what
he called ‘amorous and carnal songs’.
With feeble voice, I’ve warbled a few notes of the almost endless anthem of the astounding things God has so far accomplished through music. It’s hard to stop! Our tiny sample could be multiplied a thousand times. I long, like the very heavens, to declare day after day the glorious works of God. Yet, for the purposes of this book, there’s no need. We’ve cited enough to know that, wielded by God, music is a most formidable weapon against the devil’s strongholds.
We dare not, however, treat this powerful force like the latest toy. As Jimmy Owens discovered, even mature Christian musicians can be mesmerized by its heady surge and be swept into ungodly ego trips. This nitroglycerine of the mind and emotions must be handled with fear and trembling.
The forces of evil are unmoved by musicians ‘playing church’. But when musicians are locked into the power of God, Satan shudders. One observation that should help us keep sober is the fact that many of the instances in this chapter would have poorly performed. I don’t, for instance, know of many singers likely to be in best voice while treading water in the mid-Atlantic.
Inspired by God’s past glories, your musical ministry can become a significant part of the unfinished symphony of God’s musical miracles. We’ve seen music’s power confirmed by heaven, by Scripture, and now by history. But, musician, the Spirit won’t rest until music’s power is confirmed in your ministry.
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In Tune with God: Contents
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