Posted by: rcottrill | March 21, 2010

Today in 1685 – Johann Sebastian Bach Born

AGraphic J S Bach sincere Christian, Johann Sebastian Bach declared his life’s purpose to be the creation of “well-regulated church music to the glory of God.” And he went further, saying that, in his view, “Music’s only purpose should be for the glory of God and the recreation of the human spirit.” (Worth thinking about!)

Bach is recognized today as one of the greatest, and most prolific, composers who ever lived. When all of his musical scores were collected, the result filled 60 volumes! The works included chorales, cantatas, masses, oratorios, passions, concerti, and solo pieces for almost every musical instrument. Composer Richard Wagner praised his productivity as “the most stupendous miracle in all music.”

Given all this, it may be a shock to learn that Bach died in relative obscurity in 1750. Only ten of his compositions had been published during his lifetime, and he was buried in an unmarked grave. It would take generations of musicians, who latter poured over his manuscripts, to give him the high place that is his due.

Bach came from a musical family. More than 50 musicians bearing that last name are recognized now. But Johann Sebastian Bach far outstripped them all. Early on, he developed into a fine singer, and demonstrated ability to play the violin and other instruments. But in his own time he was known chiefly as a master of the organ. Once, when praised for his wonderful organ playing, he turned aside the compliment with humour, saying, “There is nothing very wonderful about it. You have only to hit the right notes at the right moment and the instrument does the rest!”

Dozens of hymn tunes have been adapted from Bach’s compositions, or he himself arranged and harmonized the music of others to serve that purpose. (The Cyber Hymnal lists 30 tunes.) To make use of the text of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring at the end of one of his cantatas, Bach arranged a tune by Johann Schop, creating a sublime piece of music. It seems to echo the prophecy of the martyred Tribulation saints in heaven:

They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Rev. 7:16-17).

Jesu, joy of man’s desiring,
Holy wisdom, love most bright;
Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light.
Word of God, our flesh that fashioned,
With the fire of life impassioned,
Striving still to truth unknown,
Soaring, dying round Thy throne.

Through the way where hope is guiding,
Hark, what peaceful music rings;
Where the flock, in Thee confiding,
Drink of joy from deathless springs.
Theirs is beauty’s fairest pleasure;
Theirs is wisdom’s holiest treasure.
Thou dost ever lead Thine own
In the love of joys unknown.

The following video provides a beautiful rendition of this soaring hymn–though the recording is clipped a little too tightly at the beginning and end.

Bach’s last work, dictated from his deathbed, seems a fitting conclusion to his life. It is entitled Before Thy Throne I Come. (for more about this amazing man and his music, see Today in 1750.

(2) Today in 1748 – John Newton Converted

The process by which the great pastor and hymn writer John Newton came to Christ took several days, beginning with a fearful conviction of sin on March 10th. Still later came the dawning of his understanding that the slave trade in which he had been involved was wrong.

There are many gems in Newton’s 280 hymns that are unknown and unused today. (For a thought-provoking hymn on the Christian life, see I Asked the Lord That I Might Grow. And consider the testimony song How Lost Was My Condition:

How lost was my condition
Till Jesus made me whole!
There is but one Physician
Can cure a sin-sick soul.
Next door to death He found me,
And snatched me from the grave;
To tell to all around me
His wondrous power to save.

A dying, risen Jesus,
Seen by the eyes of faith,
At once from danger frees us,
And saves the soul from death.
Come then to this Physician,
His help He’ll freely give;
He makes no hard condition,
‘Tis only look and live.

(For more about John Newton and his hymns, see Today in 1725, and the second item under Today in 1849.)

(3) Today in 1894 – Lance Latham Born
Lance Brenton Latham was a musical prodigy. He started taking piano lessons at the age of 3, and was soon able to play anything in the hymn book from memory, when his mother called out the page number! As a gospel musician, he gave many piano concerts. (I heard him myself, in his old age.)  As well as the lasting contribution he made to children’s ministry as the founding father of the Awana Youth Association, Mr. Latham has given us the music for Blessed Calvary.

I look at the cross upon Calvary,
And oh, what a wonder divine,
To think of the wealth it holds for me—
The riches of heaven are mine.

Blessèd Calvary! Precious Calvary!
’Neath thy shadow I’ll ever abide.
Blessèd Calvary! Precious Calvary!
’Twas there Jesus suffered and died.

(For more about this great servant of God, see the second item under Today in 1849.)


  1. […] of a process in which the light gradually dawned over a number of days. (Some use the date March 21st.) The earlier day referred to was a significant milestone on the way. On that day, God used a […]

  2. […] Today in 1750 – Johann Sebastian Bach Died Bach is universally considered one of the greatest composers who ever lived. Some say he ranks above all the rest. Certainly, he was the greatest composer of church music, and an ardent Christian himself. He was the most gifted organist of his day, and composed a great deal of music for the organ, as well as many orchestral works. Also, his sacred music includes the unparalleled St. Matthew Passion, and over 200 cantatas. (For a little more about Bach, see Today in 1685.) […]

  3. […] songs of Mrs. Christiansen, see Today in 1985.) For more on Lance Latham, see the third item under Today in 1685.) The Christiansen and Latham hymn […]


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