Scripture Put To Music
We all realize that the Psalms, generally in a poetical manner were Scripture, sometimes with harmony that encourages us to come into worship as we meditate on the WORD. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16).
When we consider putting Scripture to music we could never forget the greatest composer at doing that: George Frideric Handel, an Englishman, born in Germany. Handel was a very generous philanthropist, a man who made and lost fortunes in his musical enterprises. He was also the owner of a good art collection, including some Rembrandt paintings.
He was one of the greatest organist and harpsichord players of his day, who had an uncomplicated faith and view of life. He was religious, but not fanatically so. He also delighted at putting the Scripture to music and, like Fanny Crosby, Handel was blind. He lost his sight in 1752, at the age of 67, but that didn’t stop him from composing and playing the organ.
In 1741, at the age of 56, not blind yet, he composed the greatest, as well as the most popular, piece of choral music ever composed. He locked himself into his London apartment and composed the work of The Messiah in 24 days. How he was guided by the hand of the Lord, the manuscript written in a fury, his eyes bedewed with tears. He ignored food and sleep to get his music on paper for a performance. Some of Handel’s contemporaries thought The Messiah was not religious. How blinded they were. How fortunate millions are to have heard the work of The Messiah even now.
Through the years there have been many songs written by individuals who have experienced a great, even a tragic, event in their life. One of those songs happens to be my favorite hymn, It is Well with My Soul by Horatio G. Spafford. What beautiful lyrics he used to describe his emotions in such biblical language:
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”
The words were written during tragic times in Spafford’s life. Spafford, the father of five children, was an exceptional man. He built a successful law firm in Chicago following the Civil War. Deeply spiritual, he spent time daily studying the Word of God. He also was friends with some of the most influential Christian leaders of his time, such as D. L. Moody and Philip Bliss, an influential evangelist who wrote some of the greatest hymns of that time. These men helped Spafford through many difficult times during his life. His only son, just a lad, contracted pneumonia and died, the first of many tragedies.
As an attorney for doctors, Spafford became wealthy, investing much in property along Lake Michigan. On this property he owned several large buildings which were destroyed in the great Chicago fire.
Bliss continually encouraged Spafford to go to Great Britain to assist D. L. Moody in his meetings. After the great fire he conceded and made preparations to go with his wife and four daughters. Although he had great anticipation of going to Europe, something came up at the last moment, causing Horatio to stay home while his family went ahead.
After three or four days at sea, a dense fog smothered the ship, causing it to wreck. Spafford received a telegram describing the event. The ship went down in twelve minutes, and surprisingly, most of the passengers, including his wife, survived. His four daughters, however, were lost.
Spafford sailed on the next available ship to Europe to join his lonely wife. During that voyage he was inspired to write his greatest work and testimony, It Is Well with My Soul. As he stood on the deck of the ship talking to God and viewing the approximate place that his daughters perished, the words of this song came to his heart:
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
There is much insight in the lyrics of the third stanza.
My sin – Not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, O my soul.
Finally, as he envisioned being with his children again in heaven, he wrote:
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll,
The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend,
Even so it is well with my soul.
Spafford sent the words back to Bliss, who gracefully put music to these heartfelt words.
We all experience trials, perhaps even tragedy. But if we keep our vision on Jesus, we all can say as Horatio Spafford wrote, It Is Well with My Soul.
Pastor Jake StirnemannOctober 1, 2018