Posted by: reiterations | December 21, 2014

For the Lord’s Day (First Day of Winter)

Do your best to come before winter.  Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers.  (2 Timothy 4.21)

When I send Artemus or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there.  (Titus 3.12)

Posted by: reiterations | December 20, 2014

On Fasting

This is part of our Lord’s answer to the question, put by John’s disciples, as to the reason for the omission of the practice of fasting by His followers.  The answer is very simple.  It is: “My disciples do not fast because they are not sad.”  And the principle which underlies the answer is a very important one.  It is this: that all outward forms of religion, appointed by man, ought only to be observed when they correspond to the feeling and disposition of the worshiper.  That principle cuts up all religious formalism by the very roots.  The Pharisee said: “Fasting is a good thing in itself, and meritorious in the sight of God.”  The modern Pharisee says the same about many externals of ritual and worship.  Jesus Christ says, “No!  The thing has no value except as an expression of the feeling of the doer.”  Our Lord did not object to fasting.  He expressly approved of it as a means of spiritual power.  But, He did object to the formal use of it or of any outward form.  The formalist’s form, whether it be the elaborate ritual of the Catholic Church or the barest Nonconformist service or the silence of a Friends’ meeting house, is rigid, unbending, and cold, like an iron rod.  The true Christian form is elastic, like the stem of a palm tree, which curves and sways and yields to the wind and has the sap of life in it.  If any man is sad, let him fast.  If any man is merry, let him sing psalms.  Let his ritual correspond to his spiritual emotion and conviction.Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910), from a meditation on Mark 2.19.

Posted by: reiterations | December 19, 2014

Bach and the Gospel of John

It may be that no scholarly monograph can do justice to the enduring value of Bach’s work as a whole or the full scope of its relationship to the belief system in which it is grounded.  This book attempts to focus on one aspect of that work as a kind of microcosm on the nature of Bach’s interaction with the Lutheran Christian theological tradition, with particular reference to one of that tradition’s most characteristic topics. . .

Foremost among the works in question are the “St. John Passion” (composed and first performed in 1724, then re-performed, with significant changes, in 1725) and the Easter and post-Easter cantatas of 1725.  In spring, 1724, Bach probed the meaning of John’s account of the Passion to a truly extraordinary degree, producing a setting that remains a milestone to this day. . .a significant number of [the] cantatas [composed for the 1723-1724 liturgical year]. . .feature a quality that relates directly to the “St. John Passion” and might well have awakened Bach’s interest in exploring the meaning of John’s Passion account in the manner that he did: they begin with biblical excerpts (“dicta”), often drawn from the psalms, that their subsequent movements expound upon in a systematic and sequential manner.  In many of those cantatas, Bach’s interest in the interpretation of Scripture through musical means is prominent, perhaps stimulating him to create a Passion setting on the same basis.

From: J. S. Bach’s Johannine Theology: The “St. John Passion” and the Cantatas for Spring 1725 by Eric Chafe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), pp. 4, 5.

I think I have so embraced the sum of religion in all its parts and arranged it systematically that, if anyone grasps it aright, he will have no difficulty in deciding what he ought principally to seek in Scripture and to what end he should refer everything in it.  Thus, I have, as it were, paved the way.  And, if I shall, hereafter, publish any commentaries on Scripture, I shall always condense them and keep them short, for I shall not need to undertake lengthy discussions on doctrines or digress into “loci communes.”  By this method, the godly reader will be spared great trouble and boredom, provided he approaches [the commentaries] fore-armed with a knowledge of the present work as a necessary weapon.  But, because the commentary on the Epistle to the Romans will furnish an example of this intention, I prefer to let the thing appear in practice rather than forecast it by words.John Calvin (1509-1564), in 1539

Posted by: reiterations | December 17, 2014

Christ’s Touch

The plain fact is that Mark delights to dwell on Christ’s touch. 

The instances are these: first, He puts out His hand and lifts up Peter’s wife’s mother, and immediately the fever leaves her (1.31).  Then, unrepelled by the foul disease, He lays His pure hand upon the leper and the living mass of corruption is healed (1.41).  Again, He lays His hand on the clammy marble of the dead child’s forehead, and she lives (5.41).  Further, we have the incidental statement that He was so hindered in His mighty works by unbelief that He could only lay His hands on a few sick folk and heal them (6.5). 

We find, next, two remarkable incidents, peculiar to Mark, both like each other and unlike our Lord’s other miracles.  One is the gradual healing of that deaf and dumb man whom Christ took apart from the crowd, laid His hands on him, thrust His fingers into his ears as if He would clear some impediment, touched his tongue with saliva, said to Him, “Be opened,” and the man could hear (7.34).  The other is the gradual healing of a blind man whom our Lord leads, again, apart from the crowd, takes by the hand, lays His own kind hands upon the poor, sightless eyeballs and, with a singular slowness of progress, effects a cure, not by a leap and a bound, as He generally does, but by steps and stages, tries it once and finds partial success, has to apply the curative process again, and then the man can see (8.23). 

In addition to these instances, there are two other incidents which may also be adduced.  It is Mark alone who records for us the fact that He took little children in His arms and blessed them.  And it is Mark alone who records for us the fact that, when He came down from the Mount of Transfiguration, He laid His hand upon the demoniac boy, writhing in the grip of His tormentor and lifted him up.Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910), from a meditation on Mark 1.41.

Posted by: reiterations | December 16, 2014

Ethical Considerations in Music

Saint Clement of Alexandria [150-215] was convinced that goodness is intrinsic to certain kinds of music and wickedness to others.  He encouraged the faithful in the usage of diatonic melodies and regular meters, exhorted them to avoid “chromatics and syncopation” which, he believed, led to “drunkenness and debauchery.”  This belief is still widespread.  Indeed, the proposition has never been disproved.  And, though Johann Sebastian Bach [1685-1750] employed both devices consistently and convincingly (at least to posterity, though his congregation did complain) in the praise of God, and though Beethoven [1770-1827] employed them no less to celebrate the brotherhood of man, the fact remains that, when any composer wishes to depict heaven in contrast to hell or the serenities of virtue versus the excitements of sin, he is virtually obliged to use, for the one, a plainer, stiffer melodic and rhythmical vocabulary than for the other.

Olivier Messiaen [1908-1992] has devoted his whole musical career to the purging, so to speak, or conversion to devotional uses, of all the most dangerous musical devices.  The augmented fourth (or “diabolus in musica”), the major sixth, the false relation (or use of contradictory chromatics in two voices), the exaggerated employment of chromatics in melody and harmony, the ornamental dissonance, the integral dissonance, the highest elaborations of syncopated and other broken rhythms, and an almost sinfully coloristic orchestration are the very substance of his musical style, though piety is certainly its subject.  And yet, even he is obliged, for the depiction of evil, to go farther in the same direction and to insert additional violations of custom and of symmetry.  I suspect, indeed, that it is not so much the employment in music of all the known picturesque effects that is valuable for suggesting the dark forces as it is a certain absence of symmetry in their employment.  There is no reason why the music of the higher spheres should not be represented by the higher complexities and that of man’s lower tendencies by all that is banal, bromidic, and puny, though, so far, no major composer has, to my knowledge, essayed to represent beatitude by interest and fantasy, in contrast to a damnation (as in Satre’s “No Exit”) of boredom by monotony.

The endowing of music with an edifying ethical content is a problem every composer has to face.Virgil Thomson (1896-1989), American composer, music critic, and author, in an article published in the New York Herald Tribune on April 27, 1947

Posted by: reiterations | December 15, 2014

Christ, the Cornerstone

The Godhead of Christ is the chief cornerstone in the edifice of Christianity.  Remove this from the building and the whole fabric immediately totters.Robert Hawker (1753-1827)

Posted by: reiterations | December 14, 2014

For the Lord’s Day (359)

I will remember the deeds of the Lord.  Yes, I will remember Your wonders of old.  I will ponder all Your work and meditate on Your mighty deeds.  (Psalm 77.11-12)

Posted by: reiterations | December 13, 2014

On the Deity of Christ

Now, the Christian meaning of the term “deity of Christ” is fairly clear.  The Christian believes that there is a personal God, Creator and Ruler of the universe, a God who is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable.  So, when the Christian says that Jesus Christ is God or when he says that he believes in the deity of Christ, he means that that same person who is known to history as Jesus of Nazareth existed, before He became man, from all eternity as infinite, eternal, and unchangeable God, the Second Person of the holy Trinity.J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937)

Posted by: reiterations | December 12, 2014

Jesus Christ is God

On the matter of our Lord’s eternal Godhead, we cannot, for an instant, hesitate: we do not merely believe Jesus Christ to be God, but we risk our eternal future upon that truth.  I am a lost man, I know and, for me, there can be nothing but eternal destruction from the presence of the Lord if the Savior, Christ, be not divine.  But, He is divine.  This we will maintain in the teeth of all men as our confession of faith – Jesus Christ, the son of the Highest, very God of very God, is my Lord and my God.Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892)

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