Posted by: rcottrill | October 27, 2010

Today in 312 – Constantine Converted

Graphic ConstantineThe professed conversion of the Roman emperor likely took place on this date. Constantine was a worshiper of Mithra, the Persian sun god. But on the eve of an important battle he claimed he had a vision of a cross above the setting sun, suggesting to him the superiority of Christ over Mithra. In letters of light, the cross bore the words Hoc Signo Vinces–“In this sign conquer!” And when Constantine won the battle the next day–in spite of his forces being greatly outnumbered–he believed he had received help from the Christian God, and declared himself to be a Christian. Or so the story goes.

Did he have some kind of genuine religious experience. Or was it a political ploy, conceived later, to curry the favour of Christians in the empire? Opinions differ. Not everything the emperor did afterward is consistent with his claim to faith in Christ. (He refused Christian baptism until near the end of his life.) However, he did become a strong supporter of the church. The Edict of Milan, published in 313 is a significant milestone in church history. From the latter years of the Apostolic Church (30-100 AD), until the edict, believers had endured wave after wave of persecution. But, across the Roman Empire, with the stroke of a pen, the era of the Heroic Church (100-313) ended, and that of the Institutional Church (313-590) began.

Constantine’s edict said in part:

It has pleased us to remove all conditions whatsoever…and now any one of these who wishes to observe the Christian religion may do so freely and openly, without disturbance or molestation.

Christians were now allowed to build churches and hold property. Their worship (and their sacred music) could be shared openly. But not all the changes accompanying the edict were beneficial. Constantine took leadership in summoning the bishops to discuss and rule on church business, and the line between church and state was blurred. Further, it suddenly became popular to say you were a Christian. The emperor made that claim, and it was always healthy to agree with the emperor! As a result, thousands joined the local churches, but numbers aren’t everything. Many were not truly born again, and they brought the baggage of their paganism with them.

(2) Today in 1782 – Robert Williams Born
Born in North Wales, and blind from birth, Robert Williams supported himself by his skill as a basket maker, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. He was also a capable amateur musician, and had a fine singing voice. Perhaps his blindness sharpened his memory, as is the case with many who have this disability. It was said he could write out a tune, without a mistake, after hearing it only once. Robert Williams composed the tune (Llanfair) often used with Charles Wesley’s ascension hymn, Hail the Day That Sees Him Rise

Christ’s return to heaven is an important event. It is recognized in the church calendar of liturgical churches, but many other congregations miss it.  The Lord Jesus Christ’s return to Glory signified the Father’s acceptance of His sacrifice. And as our great High Priest, seated at the Father’s right hand, He represents us there (Rom. 8:34; I Jn. 2:1). Wesley’s hymn on the subject alludes to the prophetic words of Ps. 24:7-10.

Hail the day that sees Him rise, Alleluia!
To His throne above the skies, Alleluia!
Christ, awhile to mortals given, Alleluia!
Re-ascends His native heaven, Alleluia!

There the glorious triumph waits, Alleluia!
Lift your heads, eternal gates, Alleluia!
Christ hath conquered death and sin, Alleluia!
Take the King of glory in, Alleluia!

Circled round with angel powers, Alleluia!
Their triumphant Lord, and ours, Alleluia!
Conqueror over death and sin, Alleluia!
“Take the King of glory in! Alleluia!”

(3) Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen (Data Missing)
In 1788, the first independent African-American church was established in Savannah, Georgia. As well as singing the traditional Protestant hymns with which we are familiar, these churches developed their own genre of music that they called “Spiritual Himes.” They added new words to existing melodies, often changing the words each time the song was used!

At the time, there were laws prohibiting slaves from having drums, horns or other loud instruments. It was felt they might be used to signal rebelling slaves or call them to an illegal assembly. Instead, hand clapping and foot stomping commonly accompanied the singing.

There are various versions of the lyrics of the song Nobody Knowns the Trouble I’ve Seen. Below is a simple one. We don’t know who wrote the song, but its plaintive theme is typical of the black slave songs of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It speaks of the personal nature of each person’s struggle. We may be going through similar circumstances, but pain and suffering is an individual thing. Yet, as well as voicing the miseries of slave life, there is a gleam of Christian faith and hope in the words sometimes included in the song, “Nobody knows but Jesus.” Truly He understands our trials, and invites us to seek help at the throne of grace (cf. Heb. 4:14-16).

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen,
Nobody knows my sorrow;
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen,
Glory hallelujah!
Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down–
Oh, yes, Lord!
Sometimes I’m almost to the ground–
Oh, yes, Lord!
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen,
Nobody knows but Jesus;
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen,
Glory hallelujah!

Here is a version of this spiritual sung by the incomparable Paul Robeson. Robeson (1898-1976) was a college football star, and later a stage and film actor, and an opera and concert singer. The recognition of his amazing achievements was clouded for many years by reaction to his political activism and controversial views. However, recordings of his voice demonstrate that he belongs in the highest rank as one of the greatest bass-baritone’s ever.


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