Music’s power

Music not only reflects and emerges out of our social-cultural world but up to a point it also constructs it.

–Jeremy Begbie, Resounding Truth (Baker Academic, 2007), 44.


Worship as Glory-Cloud

The church in song should sound like the glory-cloud that it is—the sound of many waters, a great voice that breaks the cedars of Lebanon, a sound that strikes fear in our enemies.

Peter J. Leithart, From Silence to Song (Canon Press, 2003), 121.

Published in: on July 28, 2014 at 5:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Odes of Solomon and Mosul, Iraq

The Odes of Solomon are likely the first collection of Christian hymns that the early church produced. At the very least, they offer a glimpse of the hymns that were composed and sung by the earliest Christian congregations. There is documented historical evidence for this proposition. In Pliny’s letter to Emperor Trajan mention is made of the singing of hymns that was so typical of Christian worship.

I am delighted by the opportunity that I’ve had this week to learn more about the Odes of Solomon. They were 42 hymns written for the worship of the Syriac-speaking churches. What is so striking to me, in light of recent events in Iraq, particularly Mosul, is that this is where the Odes of Solomon were first sung.

The first line of Ode 1 goes like this:

The Lord is on my head like a crown,
and I shall not be without him.

My prayer is that my suffering brothers and sisters from Mosul and Iraq, men and women, boys and girls, will have the comfort of this knowledge engraved upon their souls.

I pray that their prayer may be like that of their brothers and sisters of the early church, who sang in the words of Ode 42:

I was not rejected although I was considered to be so,
  and I did not perish although they thought it of me.
Sheol saw me and was shattered,
  and Death ejected me and many with me.
I have been vinegar and bitterness to it,
  and I went down with it as far as its depth.
Then the feet and the head it released,
  because it was not able to endure my face.
And I made a congregation of living among his dead;
  and I spoke with them by living lips;
  in order that my word may not be unprofitable.
And those who had died ran towards me;
  and they cried out and said, Son of God, have pity on us.
And deal with us according to Your kindness,
  and bring us out from the bonds of darkness.
And open for us the door by which we may come out to You;
  for we perceive that our death does not touch You.
May we also be saved with You,
  because You are our Saviour.

Lord Jesus, have mercy!


Published in: on July 26, 2014 at 7:27 pm  Leave a Comment  


Worship is the work of the Holy Spirit
in the body of Christ
to the glory of the Father.

–Hughes Oliphant Old, scattered throughout all his writings.


Published in: on July 26, 2014 at 6:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

What can I give him?

What can I give him, poor as I am,
Were I a shepherd, I’d give him a lamb,
Were I a king I would do my part,
Since I’m a child, I’ll give him my heart.

Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

Published in: on July 25, 2014 at 5:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

Come all you thirsty and take a drink

Fill for yourselves water from the living fountain of the Lord,
  because it has been opened for you.
And come all you thirsty and take a drink,
  and rest beside the fountain of the Lord.
Because it is pleasing and sparkling,
  and perpetually refreshes the self.
For much sweeter is its water than honey,
  and the honeycomb of bees is not to be compared with it.
Because it flowed from the lips of the Lord,
  and it named from the heart of the Lord.
And it came boundless and invisible,
  and until it was set in the middle they knew it not.
Blessed are they who have drunk from it,
  and have refreshed themselves by it.

Ode 30 of the Odes of Solomon

Published in: on July 24, 2014 at 11:26 am  Leave a Comment  

Break Thou the Bread of Life

Break thou the bread of life,
Dear Lord, to me,
As thou didst break the loaves
Beside the sea;
Throughout the sacred page
I seek thee, Lord,
My spirit faints for thee,
O living Word.

Bless thou the truth, dear Lord,
To me, to me,
As thou didst bless the bread
By Galilee;

Then shall all bondage cease,
All fetters fall;
And I shall find my peace,
My All in all.

Thou art the Bread of Life,
O Lord, to me,
Thy holy Word the truth
That saveth me;
Give me to eat and live
With thee above;
Teach me to love thy truth,
For thou art love.

O send the Spirit, Lord,
Now unto me,
That he may touch mine eyes,
And make me see:
Show me the truth concealed
Within thy Word,
And in the Book revealed
I see the Lord.

This hymn was written by Mary A. Lathbury, an American who devoted her life to preparing Bible study materials.


Published in: on July 24, 2014 at 10:54 am  Leave a Comment  

A Prayer for Illumination

Here is an example of a prayer that was used before a sermon on Micah 1:1-2:9, for which the New Testament Lesson was John 1:14-18. A minister could adapt this prayer according to what he is preaching on any given Lord’s Day.

O Radiant God,
  Source of never ending glory,
  Saviour of your people,
We pray to you for the gift of the Holy Spirit,
  that we might understand the prophecies
    of your servant Micah,
That being instructed by his word,
    we might be wise in your ways.
We pray that hearing the Gospel
  of your servant John
  we might perceive grace and truth
  and thereby enter your eternal kingdom.
Through Jesus Christ,
  our Lord.


Source: Hughes Oliphant Old, The Prophecies of Micah and the Gospel at Christmas: A Series of Sermons (1985), 10. Rev. Old preached this series of sermons to his flock at Faith Presbyterian Church in West Lafayette, Indiana during Advent and Christmas, 1984.

Is Christian worship dialogue?

Not according to Dr. Hughes Oliphant Old:

Reformed worship is not to be understood in terms of a dialectic between God’s Word and man’s response. The early Reformed theologians did not understand worship as dialogue. They were not interested in any form of worship that suggested that God spoke his lines and then men spoke their lines. They did not think of God as being on one side of the altar and men on the other. The sermon was understood as the Word of God. It was Christ who fed his people at his table. Through prayers and psalms the Holy Spirit spoke in and through the church.
The Patristic Roots of Reformed Worship (1970), 341.


Published in: on July 23, 2014 at 1:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Biblical Theology of Prayer

According to one of my teachers Dr. Hughes Oliphant Old, in his monumental Holy Communion in the Piety of the Reformed Church (Tolle Lege Press, 2013):

From the standpoint of a biblical theology of prayer two things should be said: (1) Recount the story of God’s saving acts, as we find them in Psalms 78, 105, and 136, and (2) dedicate our lives to his service in recognition of his grace.

He’s commenting here on the Thanksgiving Prayer or Prayer of Dedication, as he calls it, in Calvin’s communion liturgy. For those of us who’ve grown up on the liturgical forms inherited from the Reformation, this rings true. Old provides a translation of this Lord’s Supper thanksgiving prayer formulated by Calvin:

Heavenly Father, we return to you our prayers and eternal thanks, that you have prospered us with such manifold blessings. You have lifted us up from our poverty and futility and brought us into the communion of your Son Jesus Christ, our Saviour. For our sake you offered him up to death and even now you have given him to us for our food and nourishment.

Now grant us also this further blessing, that we not ever be allowed to forget these things, but have them engraven upon our hearts. Grant that we grow and diligently increase in the faith; that we abound in all kinds of good works. Grant that we live out our whole lives in the exaltation of your glory and the edification of our neighbour, through the same Jesus Christ your Son, who in the unity of the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns eternally with you, O Father. Amen.