Last in a five-part “Solae of the Reformation” series by AFLC Schools faculty
Back in the sixteenth century, a humble baker named Veit Bach fled Hungary because of his Lutheran beliefs, settling in Thuringia in central Germany. Veit’s great-great-grandson recalled his passion for music: “He found his greatest pleasure in a little cittern [a small stringed instrument similar to a mandolin], which he took with him even into the mill and played upon while the grinding was going on. . . . And this was, as it were, the beginning of a musical inclination in his descendants.”
The great-great-grandson who penned these words was none other than Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), regarded by many as the greatest composer in the history of Western music. Bach grew up in the shadow of the Wartburg castle where Luther was confined after he gave his famous “Here I stand” speech. He attended the same Latin School in Eisenach that Luther had attended as a child two centuries earlier. From cradle to grave, Bach lived and worked in a part of the world where, as one writer put it, “Luther was a great deal more compelling than gravity.”
Guided by his Lutheran convictions, J. S. Bach devoted his life to creating music to the glory of God. “The aim and final end of all music,” he affirmed, “should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.” As he set about composing, he lived out this conviction repeatedly, marking his blank manuscript pages with the initials, “J. J.” (Jesu Juva—“Help me, Jesus”), or “I. N. J.” (In Nomine Jesu—“In the name of Jesus”). At the end of his compositions, Bach regularly inscribed the letters “S. D. G.” (Soli Deo Gloria—“To God alone, the glory”). Bach, like Luther before him, understood that all of life can and should be lived for the glory of God alone. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31, ESV).
As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing of his 95 Theses, sparking the Protestant Reformation, let’s remember that the real celebration is not about glorifying a mere man for what he did. Ultimately, it’s about glorifying God for what He has done for us in Christ! This is the heart of the Christian message. As sinners, we struggle to render all glory to God with a sincere heart. But Luther reminds us, “The Holy Spirit convicts the whole world of sin (John 16:8) and proclaims the righteous Christ and His glory alone. It is the office of an evangelical preacher to proclaim the glory of God alone” (Luther’s Works, 17:172-173).
Pastor Jerry Moan
Professor of New Testament
AFLC Promotion for October is H.I.S. Fund
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