The Book of Proverbs tells us about the man who lies on his bed, turning like a door on its hinges, while the weeds grow up in his garden, choking and killing his crop. Then, when harvest has come, he has nothing and is reduced to begging for help.

Now, staying in bed when he should be cultivating his garden may not be overly sinful—but I think there is no argument but what a willfully lazy man is a sinful man!

It follows, then, in my estimation, that a person who is intellectually lazy is a sinful person. God had a reason for giving us our heads with intellectual capacity for thinking and reasoning and considering. But what a great company of humans there are who refuse to use their heads and many of these are Christians, we must confess.

Many a preacher would like to challenge the intellectual and thinking capacity of his congregation, but he has been warned about preaching over the people’s heads.

As a preacher, I deny that any of the truths of God which I teach and expound are over the heads of the people. I deny it!

I say to my Christian brother: “You ought to take that head of yours, oil it and rub the dust off and begin to use it as God has always expected you would. God expects you to understand and have a grasp of His truth because you need it from day to day!”

——

(Emphasis mine); from A Word for Reason: Emotions in Control!; cited in Tozer Speaks, vol. 2

One more thought: Obviously, the truth in both this quote and the Luther quote (see previous post) could be twisted. But it’s important that we who teach care enough for our people to both (1) labor to speak clearly to them regardless of education level, and (2) refuse to assume they are incapable of learning or appreciating complex passages.

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Cursed are all preachers that in the church aim at high and hard things, and, neglecting the saving health of the poor unlearned people, seek their own honour and praise, and therewith to please one or two ambitious persons.

When I preach, I sink myself deep down. I regard neither Doctors nor Magistrates, of whom are here in this church above forty; but I have an eye to the multitude of young people, children, and servants, of whom are more than two thousand. I preach to those, directing myself to them that have need thereof. Will not the rest hear me? The door stands open unto them; they may begone. I see that the ambition of preachers grows and increases; this will do the utmost mischief in the church, and produce great disquietness and discord; for they will needs teach high things touching matters of state, thereby aiming at praise and honour; they will please the worldly wise, and meantime neglect the simple and common multitude.

An upright, godly, and true preacher should direct his preaching to the poor, simple sort of people, like a mother that stills her child, dandles and plays with it, presenting it with milk from her own breast, and needing neither malmsey nor muscadin for it. In such sort should also preachers carry themselves, teaching and preaching plainly, that the simple and unlearned may conceive and comprehend, and retain what they say. When they come to me, to Melancthon, to Dr. Pomer, etc., let them show their cunning, how learned they be; they shall be well put to their trumps. But to sprinkle out Hebrew, Greek, and Latin in their public sermons, savours merely of show, according with neither time nor place.

——-

From Table Talk, section CCCCXXVII (HT: quoted by Carl Trueman in a Westminster Seminary lecture from a course on medieval theology, available on iTunes U)

When I was a child
I once sat sobbing on the floor
Beside my mother’s piano
As she played and sang
For there was in her singing
A shy yet solemn glory
My smallness could not hold

And when I was asked
Why I was crying
I had no words for it
I only shook my head
And went on crying

Why is it that music
At its most beautiful
Opens a wound in us
An ache a desolation
Deep as a homesickness
For some far-off
And half-forgotten country

I’ve never understood
Why this is so

Bur there’s an ancient legend
From the other side of the world
That gives away the secret
Of this mysterious sorrow

For centuries on centuries
We have been wandering
But we were made for Paradise
As deer for the forest

And when music comes to us
With its heavenly beauty
It brings us desolation
For when we hear it
We half remember
That lost native country

We dimly remember the fields
Their fragrant windswept clover
The birdsongs in the orchards
The wild white violets in the moss
By the transparent streams

And shining at the heart of it
Is the longed-for beauty
Of the One who waits for us
Who will always wait for us
In those radiant meadows

Yet also came to live with us
And wanders where we wander.

“Music” by Anne Porter; from Living Things: Collected Poems. Porter started writing in earnest only in her later years; her life sounds remarkably un-Bohemian. Read about her here.

I read “Music” today thanks to a friend who posted it on Facebook; another friend then observed that the poem echoes C.S. Lewis:

The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.”
― from Till We Have Faces

The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
― from The Weight of Glory

Why do Christians celebrate the Lord’s Table?

To “frequently call to mind the sufferings of Christ, thereby sustaining and confirming their faith: stirring themselves up to sing the praises of God, and proclaim his goodness…”

– Calvin, Institutes IV:17:44

For those of us in musical leadership in a church, our remarks in corporate worship are often well-meant (we want to help others sing with understanding) but lengthy, cumbersome, unclear. Hear, then, Bob Kauflin:

“[My pastor] told me that if I wanted to grow in communicating effectively, I should write down what I wanted to say and keep it to a certain length. He assured me that the more I thought through my comments in advance, the more substantive they would be and the easier it would eventually be to prepare them. He was right.”

(Worship Matters, p. 40)

A professor in my undergrad church music program used to say, “You’ve got two sentences before people tune you out. Use them well.”

“Coach your flock to see that weak doctrines get pulverized by the weight of powerful temptations. Sin and temptation must be refuted by truths of God that are anchored in the Scriptures, especially the doctrine of the person and nature of God.”

– Mike Abendroth, Jesus Christ: The Prince of Preachers, p.74

These are good words for any believer, but especially for those of us entrusted with the responsibility to lead some aspect of corporate worship. Referring to the friction between David and his wife after he danced before the Lord (2 Sam. 6), D.A. Carson remarks,

[Michal] despises David precisely because he is so God-centered he cares very little about his persona. People constantly fretting about what others think of them cannot be absorbed by the sheer God-awareness and God-centeredness that characterize all true worship.

— For the Love of God, p.254

Book Cover: Referring to Philippe Aries’ book Western Attitudes Towards Death: From the Middle Ages to the Present, Richard Plantinga writes, “Indeed, Aries argues, in the twentieth century the subject of death was suppressed and rigorously censored; in other words, death has become a virtual pornography in the West.”

He goes on to say, in a footnote, “Instructive in this regard is the great reversal in the case of children, who were once not protected from the specter of death but who were sheltered from the mysterious and powerful realm of human sexuality. Today’s children are alarmingly literate and sometimes distressingly practiced in matters pertaining to sex, but tend to be rigorously shielded from the reality of death.”

— Richard J. Plantinga, “The Integration of Music and Theology in J.S. Bach,” from Resonant Witness: Conversations Between Music and Theology, ed. Jeremy Begbie.

I’ve been reading J.J. Fux’s treatise on counterpoint, Gradus ad Parnassum (1971 ed. of Alfred Mann’s tr. for Norton), and have run across a number of gems. The book is written, as was common at the time, in the format of a hypothetical conversation between a teacher and a student. Aside from the valuable explanation of 18th-century views on composition, here are some of the quotes touching on music education, garnished with my two cents.

  1. “Some people will perhaps wonder why I have undertaken to write about music […] at a time when music has become almost arbitrary and composers refuse to be bound by any rules and principles, detesting the very name of school and law like death itself. […] I shall not be deterred by the most ardent haters of school, nor by the corruptness of the times.” (Foreword, p17)
    Shall I hang this on my office wall? 
  2. On his use of Latin: “I would rather be understandable than seem eloquent.” (p 18)
    That can go on my other wall. 
  3. To the student who would learn to compose: “You must try to remember whether even in childhood you felt a strong natural inclination to this art and whether you were deeply moved by the beauty of concords [i.e., beautiful music].” (p19)
    In other words, “Were you born for this?” Every music educator struggles with the challenge of teaching students with high natural aptitude versus those students who must work significantly harder to progress. But today most teachers wouldn’t dare throw this kind of you-have-it-or-you-don’t at a student! I suspect this is partly due to research, partly the the result of seeing   enough hard-working students outperform the “talented” ones.
  4. Again, to the student who would pursue a career in music: “Whoever wants riches must take another path.” (p20)
    Yup.
  5. And again: “…One should be content with a simple way of life and strive rather for proficiency and a good name than for wealth…” (p20)
    This might seem unremarkable, but it’s valuable if you live in a culture that’s obsessed with artists who “hit it big,”  songs that “top the charts,”  videos that “go viral.” Even in ministry, we’re eager to serve the Church but sometimes forget our church (see what I did there?). Do dreams for fame distract me from faithful, honest, hard work for God’s renown (Eph 6:6)? Bach may not have been extraordinarily famous during his lifetime, but perhaps that’s what freed him to focus on producing solid art.
  6. “This slight error need not worry you, because it is almost impossible for a beginner to be attentive enough to avoid every mistake. Practice is the key to all things.” (p32)
    I might print this in the Theory III syllabus.
  7. “I want to remind you again and again to make every effort to overcome the great difficulties of the study you have undertaken; and neither to become discouraged by hard work, nor to allow yourself to be deterred from unflagging industry by flattery of such skill as you have already achieved.” (p48)
    Another one for the syllabus.
  8. From student to teacher, on receiving his corrected “homework” back: “Why did you mark a mistake in the first and second bar, venerable master?” (p31)
    and again…
  9. “I shall always follow your advice as law.” (p65)
    I’m confident that someday I’ll get these in an email. Still waiting.

Cover of Only let people be careful not to allow that ancient error to sneak into the visual arts once again, which claimed that the art of painting serves a higher spirit only if it portrays scenes from the Bible, or architecture serves a higher purpose only if it erects buildings for worship. The spirit of Christ ennobles all of life. Someone who regards nature as Jesus regarded it, who then possesses the artistic talent for transferring the received impression to a canvas and helps us to enjoy that impression, has glorified his God as a Christian.

Similarly, someone who is able to understand human life in the wealth of its manifestations and in the multiplicity of its struggles, as that must be understood with the light of God’s Word, and who knows how to transfer the received impression into the world of beauty, has interpreted the Spirit of his Lord dwelling within that life.

— Abraham Kuyper, as translated in Wisdom and Wonder: Common Grace in Science and Art, pp.181-2.

Observations:

  • This passage is part of a larger argument that Kuyper is making, viz., that relegating artistic expression to ecclesiastical life alone impoverishes public life and robs laymen of an opportunity to glorify God. That is, in reclaiming the idea that vocation outside of the church could be just as “sacred” and God-glorifying as ministerial work, the Reformers also restored the legitimacy of art outside the church (178-9).
  • For those of us who are tempted to push artistic expression completely out of the church because we see it as either extraneous or indulgent, these words of Kuyper’s offer balance: “It is therefore a gap in the life of Christianity if, because it is too far estranged from nature and too little interested in the sensate life of the imagination, it should lack the impulse to manifest itself in the world of beauty, […] thereby to glorify the name of her God in the realm of art” (181).
  • Kuyper’s thoughts here resonate in the work of Francis Schaeffer, who presents them in a more refined and concise format.
  • Within Kuyper’s ideal of “enjoying” the impressions given us by artists, he leaves room for the portrayal of struggle, i.e., the realities of life in a fallen world. This finds parallel in Schaeffer’s more extensive discussion of what he calls the “light” and “dark” themes in art (see his Art and the Bible).
  • Kuyper’s words, now over a hundred years old, serve as an older articulation of the (currently frequent) call for Christians to not merely create what Schaeffer calls “Sunday-school art,” but to be Christians who are free to be artists in every sphere of life.
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