Soothe a Savage
How do you deal with the blahs? Many people find music helpful. See if you can finish this phrase: “Music Hath Charms to Soothe the Savage ______.”
Most of us think “Music Hath Charms to Soothe the Savage Beast.” This is a misquote of a line from a 1697 tragedy titled “The Mourning Bride” written by British playwright William Congreve. The correct line is "Music has charms to soothe the savage breast. To soften rocks, or bend the knotted oak."
Music plays an important part in our lives. It expresses our thoughts and feelings and moods. It helps us deal with life. It helps us learn and remember. Who among us can recite the alphabet without singing it, or at least playing the song in our minds.
It seems that music has been around from the beginning. In Genesis 4:21 we read …Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. Singing is not mentioned in the Garden of Eden, but I would not be surprised if Adam and Eve joined in with an angel choir. The Psalms were sung, though none of the original music has survived in written form. A look through the Psalms gives us some of the occasions for specific Psalms: A psalm of David when he fled Absolum his son, A song at the dedication of the house, A Psalm of David when Nathan the prophet came to him after he had gone in to Batheba. Some had musical notations: For the choir director on stringed instruments, For the choir director for lute accompaniment, with stringed instruments on an eight string lyre. Some have a particular purpose: A memorial, A Psalm of thanksgiving, A song for a sabbath day.
I want to give some scripture and background about two well known hymns. Feel free to sing along.
Read Romans 7:21-8:2, Luke 15:22-24, John 9:25
John Newton was no saint. Born in 1725, his mother died in 1732. He went to sea on his father’s ship when he was 11. After his father retired in 1742, John signed on with a merchant ship. In a few years he became involved in the slave trade.
On one of the slave ships, Newton often openly mocked the captain by creating obscene poems and songs about him, which became so popular that the crew began to join in. This resulted in his being starved almost to death, imprisoned while at sea, and chained like the slaves they carried. He was himself enslaved in Sierra Leone. Early in 1748 he was rescued by a sea captain who had been asked by Newton's father to search for him.
In 1748, during his return voyage to England aboard the ship Greyhound, Newton had a spiritual conversion. He awoke to find the ship caught in a severe storm off the coast of Ireland and about to sink. In response, Newton began praying for God's mercy, after which the storm began to die down. After four weeks at sea the Greyhound made it to port. This experience marked the beginning of his conversion to Christianity.
Newton began to read the Bible and other Christian literature. By the time he reached Britain, he had accepted the doctrines of evangelical Christianity. The date was 10 March 1748, an anniversary he marked for the rest of his life. From that point on, he avoided profanity, gambling and drinking. Although he continued to work in the slave trade, he had gained sympathy for the slaves. He later said that his true conversion did not happen until some time later: "I cannot consider myself to have been a believer in the full sense of the word, until a considerable time afterwards."
Newton abandoned the slave trade and was ordained in the Anglican church in 1764. He wrote Amazing Grace in 1772, six verses, published in 1779. He later became an abolitionist. Another verse, not written by Newton, was first recorded in Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin.
When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise,
Than when we first begun.
It had been passed down orally in African-American communities for at least 50 years. It was one of between 50 and 70 verses of a song titled "Jerusalem, My Happy Home", which was first published in a 1790 book called A Collection of Sacred Ballads.
The song was used by Dwight L. Moody and Ira Sankey during a religious revival in the cities of the US and Europe, giving the song international exposure. They published the song in 1875, giving it the name "Amazing Grace."
Over the years, Amazing Grace became very popular. The U.S. Library of Congress has a collection of 3,000 versions of and songs inspired by "Amazing Grace", some of which were first-time recordings by folklorists Alan and John Lomax, a father and son team who in 1932 traveled thousands of miles across the southern states of the US to capture the different regional styles of the song. Mahalia Jackson's 1947 version received significant radio airplay. The song even made an appearance at the Woodstock Music Festival in 1969 during Arlo Guthrie's performance. AllMusic lists over 1,000 recordings of the song as of 2019.
Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I'm found
Was blind but now I see
'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed
Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come
This grace that brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home
When we've been here ten thousand years