The word of God has an incredible life-changing power but when wedded to music it can stick in the mind till it becomes almost impossible to remove. Here is D.A. Carson talking about his mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s:
Nine or ten months before she died, you'd get a small flicker from the eyes or squeeze of the hand if you held up pictures of her grandchildren. Six months before she died, if you sang an old hymn like 'Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine', you'd get a squeeze. Or a quote from the King James Version that she'd been brought up on. That was about the last thing that produced any response in her. The most deeply embedded memories in that decaying brain were those old hymns and memorised Scripture.
Sung words can remain, stubbornly bearing witness against the seared unbelieving conscience. Author D.H. Lawrence once said;
...all these lovely poems woven deep onto a man's consciousness are still not woven so deep in me as the rather banal Nonconformist hymns that penetrated through and through my childhood.
(Nick Page: And Now Let's Move into a Time of Nonsense p.112)
Songs can endure even when barely a remnant of the language is retained. Here is some of fruit of David Livingstone’s ministry:
Each night [Livingstone] spent some time in prayer and even sang a bedtime hymn…these hymns he also taught to his faithful followers. Wakatani, who had left …nine years earlier and had forgotten most of his English, was recognised one night by the seaman, Young, to be singing a hymn. This Wakatani said was a four-line bedtime hymn Livingstone had taught him.
(Rob Mackenzie: David Livingstone: The Truth Behind The Legend p323)
In the light of testimonies like this it’s worth pausing to consider what words we are putting in the mouths of God’s people Sunday by Sunday.
As D.A. Carson says
There is something worrying to me about a generation that sings choruses that won't last more than five years. There's not much memorization of Scripture, and there's not much memorization of doctrinally profound hymns. I want to see that reborn. Nobody's going to die remembering 'He's a great big wonderful God'.
(P.S. Music can also make us feel powerful emotions too…)
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