My God, how wonderful thou art

This is the text of the final talk in a series of talks for Lent 2017 given in the parish church of St Peter and St Paul, Lufton

John Newton, born in 1725, led an unpromising early life, pressed into the Royal Navy, captured and enslaved, he became the first mate and later captain aboard slave ships. During a serious illness in West Africa  he acknowledged his need of God and was converted. In time, not immediately, he renounced his former life, married his childhood sweetheart and after a time working in Liverpool as a tax collector sought ordination. It took him seven years, because of his life as a slaver and as a virtual pirate, to persuade a Bishop that he should be accepted and was eventually made perpetual curate of Olney in Buckinghamshire in 1764. He worked there for seventeen years until he moved to St Mary, Woolnoth in London, where there is a memorial to him.

At Olney his assistant was William Cowper. Together they compiled a new hymn book, Olney Hymns, in 1779. The hymns were written not for the church services but for the prayer meeting. Continue reading “My God, how wonderful thou art”

Love Divine

This is the text of the third of a series of talks for Lent 2017, given in the Parish Church of St Peter & st Paul, Lufton

Today’s talk is entitled Love divine.

While during the Reformation and in the years after it in Germany the Lutherans were singing hymns the situation in England was rather different, perhaps because the Reformation took a very different course.

The dissatisfaction with the abuses of the Catholic Church and the Papacy were felt by dissenters and reformers in exactly the same way as in continental Europe. The political situation though was the catalyst for change. Henry VIII’s need of a male heir drove him to declare a sort of Universal Declaration of Independence. It was never Henry’s intention that the liturgy or practice of the Church should change but events on the continent together with a growing movement in England made change inevitable. So it was that during the reign of Edward the first Book of Common Prayer was introduced in 1549 and followed in 1552 by the second. However, although the worship was now in the vernacular the practice of hymn singing was not encouraged. Continue reading “Love Divine”

Hail, gladdening light

This is the second of a series of talks for Lent 2017, given in the Parish Church of St Peter & St Paul, Lufton

Read last week’s talk here.

Tonight’s talk I have entitled Hail, gladdening light.

St Ambrose was Bishop of Milan from 374 until his death in 397. Together with St Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers (d. 367), Ambrose is considered the father of western hymnody, although it is by no means certain that he wrote any of the hymns attributed to him. What is more certain is that he was responsible at Milan for importing an antiphonal style of singing (in which one side of the choir responds to the other) from the Eastern Church.

Between twelve and eighteen hymns are attributed to him, four with a fair degree of certainty – although at various times in the past many more have been. He is also said, together with St Augustine, to have written the song which we know now as the Te Deum, although neither he nor Augustine mention it in their writings so we cannot be certain. Continue reading “Hail, gladdening light”

As Pants the Hart for Cooling Streams

This is the text of the first of a series of talks for Lent 2017, given in the the Parish Church of St Peter & St Paul, Lufton

I’ve entitled this series of talks Hymns and the Faith. In each of the talks we’ll look at one or more hymns to see what we can learn from them about the history of singing hymns in church, and also about what singing hymns can teach about God, about Jesus and about the teachings of the Christian faith.

This first talk I’ve called As pants the hart. The hymn was published in 1696 in the New Version of the Psalms of David in Metre by Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady. It is, of course, a metrical version of Psalm 42. The original version was much longer than the version we find in our modern hymn books which have only three verses from Tate and Brady’s hymn and a doxology added. Continue reading “As Pants the Hart for Cooling Streams”

Sometimes reading the Bible is hard

At Morning Prayer throughout November we have been reading the Book of Revelation. To be honest I can’t say that I’ve been enjoying it.

At Morning Prayer throughout November we have been reading the Book of Revelation. To be honest I can’t say that I’ve been enjoying it. Its world view, its philosophical assumptions, its literary style, its imagery are all so far removed from my own experience and understanding that I find it difficult to access and even to make sense of.

I’m not alone. Throughout Christian history the place and authority of the Book of Revelation has been disputed. To this day some Eastern Churches do not include it in the canon of New Testament books. It is not read in the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Churches, although it is read in Catholic and Protestant liturgies. Martin Luther, at the time of the Reformation called it neither apostolic nor prophetic, John Calvin wrote commentaries on every book of the New Testament – except Revelation. Continue reading “Sometimes reading the Bible is hard”

I bind unto myself today

I bind unto myself today
the strong name of the Trinity. (att. St Patrick)

What sense can we make of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity? I suppose most of us would say, ‘Not much!’ And yet, everywhere we look the Trinity pops up as if to mock us for our lack of understanding. There it is in our prayers – through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit. There it is in our hymns – praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. There it is as we begin

The Holy Trinity – Peter Paul Rubens

our worship – In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And there it is, of course, when we baptize new Christians – I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Everywhere we look, it’s there. There’s no escaping it. Continue reading “I bind unto myself today”

The True Meaning of Christmas

The words the true meaning of Christmas crop up quite a lot at this time of year. Often they’re heard when someone is bemoaning the rampant commercialism and consumerism that accompanies the run up to Christmas_House_LightsChristmas. And then again you hear them when someone is complaining that the Christmas promotions in the shops in the high street and the advertisements on television appear to start earlier and earlier each year. You hear them when someone takes exception to the over-the-top Christmas decorations which some people put up outside their homes.

On the other hand, in an almost opposite case, you will hear them spoken when we hear of a local council or business “cancelling” the Christmas party or refusing to display Christmas decorations or preferring instead a “non-religious” alternative because the celebration of such an overtly Christian festival might offend people of another faith, or none. Continue reading “The True Meaning of Christmas”