Hughes Oliphant Old (1933-2016)

Today the church on earth has lost one of her best. Dr. Hughes Oliphant Old, minister of the Word and Sacraments, finished his earthly sojourn this morning and departed to be with his Lord at the age of 83. Old was arguably one of the most prolific and outstanding patristics and reformed liturgical scholars of our time. While he is probably best known for his prodigious 7-volume magnum opus, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church and Worship that is Reformed According to the Scriptures, he always insisted that his less famous book, Themes and Variations for a Christian Doxology: Some Thoughts on the Theology of Worship, is seminal for understanding everything else that he has written.

His death is also a great personal loss to me. As one of my teachers, Dr. Old became a dear mentor and friend. When I was his student many years ago, he honoured me by inviting me to be his personal assistant for the duration of the course, on account of his debilitating blindness. This meant that I was privileged, among other things, to drive him around, read aloud for him, and join him for meals at his favourite local restaurants. With this privilege came the rare opportunity to have extended conversations with him.

A couple years ago, after many years of trying to get together again, he invited me to spend a week with him and his wife at his home in Vermont. They were superb and generous hosts, far beyond what I expected or deserved. We spent time editing a volume that he was working on at the time, talking about my recent dissertation, listening to the music of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck with which he was deeply fascinated and asked me to research and write about for him, and even visiting nearby Northampton, Massachusetts where Jonathan Edwards had once ministered. During his periods of rest, I had full access to his large, well-stocked library and his huge collection of musical recordings. I was again deeply impressed by his humble piety, his brilliant and encyclopaedic mind and his immense wisdom; but most of all by his deep love for the Lord God and his church.

We had planned and hoped to work on a writing and conference project together, but my wife’s cancer diagnosis several months later prevented me from following through. Since my wife’s health is more stable, I had hoped to take up contact with Dr. Old soon again to reassess our plans. God clearly had another plan in mind.

There’s no doubt in my mind that he deeply cherished his final act of public ministry last month: the baptism of his first grandchild. Now he may enjoy the reality that baptism signifies: to be alive with Christ!

Hughes Oliphant Old has fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith (2 Tim 4:7). Farewell, brother! Until we meet again.

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Published in: on May 24, 2016 at 11:53 pm  Leave a Comment  
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