Aaron L. Garriott

Didactic Singing

Written by Aaron L. Garriott |
Sunday, April 17, 2022
Music is undeniably an effective means of administering balm to the soul. When the Word of God is set to a beautiful melody, the music can stir within us a zeal and hope that nothing else can. Music is, as Abraham Kuyper wrote, a “means for bringing a worshiper’s soul out of the ordinary and the mechanical into passion and activity.” Additionally, praising the Lord in song displays and fortifies Christian unity, as members of one body unite with one voice. 

It was 374, and the Roman city of Milan was riotous. The bishop had just died, and there was a deep divide between the Arians (who taught that Jesus is less than God) and the Trinitarians (who taught that Jesus is God). Which one would the next bishop be? Shouting and sparring in the cathedral, the people grew increasingly belligerent. Ambrose the governor walked in, and a peaceful silence immediately descended. Suddenly, a child yelled, “Ambrose for bishop!” Only days later, Ambrose commenced his pastoral duties as bishop of Milan. Much to the consternation of the Arians, Ambrose staunchly defended the Trinitarian orthodoxy set down in the Council of Nicaea fifty years before.

The Arian-Trinitarian battles continued. The mother of Emperor Valentinian II, Justina, was an Arian. The empress demanded that Ambrose give one of the basilicas to the Arians. Ambrose refused, prompting Justina to send soldiers to take it by force. Ambrose summoned the parishioners to the basilica to hold their ground. The parishioners—among whom was Monica, the mother of Augustine—fasted, prayed, and sang. Barricaded inside the basilica, Ambrose fortified the souls of his people by teaching them hymnody. Arians advanced their teaching by singing; now, at the behest of Ambrose, the Trinitarians set biblical theology to melody, and it reinvigorated their zeal. They sang antiphonally (i.e., back-and-forth, as in the chorus of “It Is Well with My Soul”), emphatically, and prayerfully. You can almost hear the reverberation off the stone colonnades as these Milanian Christians sing: “O thou true Sun, on us thy glance let fall in royal radiance; the Spirit’s sanctifying beam upon our earthly senses stream” (“O Splendor of God’s Glory Bright”). Justina eventually backed off. Arianism was held at bay by truth well sung.
Not without reason has singing played a major role in the life of the church throughout its history. The catholic (i.e., universal) church has long understood singing psalms and hymns as a form of liturgical battle cry and a biblically sanctioned pedagogical device. And yet the church of today has drifted from this practice, largely because it has missed these reasons for singing. In a word, we typically don’t sing because we have a low view of singing. We might think that singing is for those artsy folks who can read music, and so some of us end up merely mouthing the words rather than singing. Generally, it has been us men who have become particularly proficient at this practice, and admittedly, many of the church’s modern songs appeal to a more feminine demographic.

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Invisible Providence

The book of Esther is the only book in the Bible that does not include any direct reference to God at all.
Many have found this fact about the book of Esther troubling—it’s like reading an autobiography of Winston Churchill with no mention of Churchill. What are we to make of the fact that God is “missing in action” from Esther? Some thinkers have convincingly argued that the author’s intent is to deliver a message through the overt silence with regard to God. The omission is glaring—too glaring to understand it as a literary mistake; rather, the omission is the message. The author portrays God’s presence by not mentioning the presence of God at all.1 In other words, it’s the silence that proves His presence; the lack of theology is in fact the theology. In this way, the book of Esther teaches an important lesson for Christians today. In fact, rather than being a neglected book, Esther should be a significant part of our biblical diet.
The reason for this has to do with how our experience relates to biblical narratives. Our everyday lives coalesce with the Esther narrative more than with the Exodus, Joshua, or Kings narratives. Not many of us have witnessed miraculous deliverance (Ex. 7–12) or attesting signs (Ex. 4:1–9). We’ve never witnessed manna falling from the clouds (Ex. 16) or the walls of a fortress collapse upon God’s enemies (Josh. 6). We’ve never gazed on a vast body of water dividing at the seafloor (Ex. 14) or witnessed a three-year drought miraculously ended following a soaking-wet altar being consumed by fire (1 Kings 18:20–40). No, the ebb and flow of our lives is more akin to that of life in Persia during the time of Esther—daily activities, coincidences, mundane events, misfortunes, mistakes—normal, everyday life where the overt presence of God is all but undetectable. We, like the exiled Jews who remained after King Cyrus’ decree (Ezra 1:1–4), sojourn through life with the silent presence of God—entirely dependent on His written Word for guidance (see Neh. 7–10, 13).
Sovereignty and Providence
Among other things, the change in the means by which God exercises His sovereignty can be accounted for by the distinction between sovereignty and providence—an important distinction to maintain. Sovereignty describes the attribute of God wherein He is in authority over all things. Providence describes the way in which God works out His will in history. To put it simply, sovereignty refers to His attribute—something He is—while providence refers to His action—something He does. Providence, then, stems from His sovereignty; only the Sovereign can exercise providence. The Westminster Shorter Catechism identifies God’s works of providence as “His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all His creatures, and all their actions” (WSC 11). He governs all—His creatures and their actions. Nothing is outside His rule, and nothing happens without His governance.
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