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apologetics

Handel’s “Messiah” as Apologetic

hmcgp-stapert“I should be sorry if I only entertained them [the audience], I wish to make them better.” – Handel 

Handel’s “Messiah” is one of the greatest pieces of music ever composed. It has been performed constantly since he wrote it. There is no doubting the enduring popularity of the piece and the way it brings comfort to God’s people. It is often played during the Christmas or Advent seasons and has become a way for many to hear the message of Christ during this time.

One aspect that is not often explored, however, is the way the piece may be seen as an apologetic for Christianity. Calvin Stapert, in his work on the piece, Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People, notes how the work was written in part as apologetic. The biblical selections which were put together to form the lyrics of the performance were selected by Charles Jennens, whose brother had committed suicide during some doubt-inducing talks with a famous deist (77-78, cited below).

Moreover, Christian apologists during this time–during the height of Enlightenment–were beginning to realize that simply making arguments from natural revelation or reason alone was in some way to not engage with the Deists who were at large. After all, Deists could agree God existed. The question was which God and whether God was personal. So although the arguments of natural theology were helpful, they could not do all the work on their own, and Christian apologists set about the task of proving Christianity through the Scriptures (75-77).

By simply putting forth a different narrative than that of the Deists, Handel and Jennens challenged the notion that God was impersonal. Moreover, they pressed home the need for a savior due to our own futile raging against God. The beauty of he piece serves to enhance its apologetic narrative, making it entice the heater to keep listening. The music forges links between the notion of he need for a savior and the Incarnate Son.

The Messiah, then, is part of this project. It is a story of prophecy and the way that God sent the Son into the world, incarnate in the flesh, to bring about salvation. It is a masterful interweaving of Old Testament prophecy and New Testament fulfillment. More than that, it is an apologetic voice in the wilderness.

Source

Calvin Stapert, Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2010).

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——

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

6 thoughts on “Handel’s “Messiah” as Apologetic

  1. Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.

    Posted by vincent | December 22, 2014, 9:44 AM
  2. What a thought: Handel’s Messiah as an apologetic!

    Posted by SLIMJIM | December 23, 2014, 3:14 AM
  3. I appreciated this blog because I would have never thought of Handel’s MESSIAH as an apologetic at all. Blessings!

    Could you name a couple or a few Christian Apologists from the Enlightenment period?

    In Christ,

    Jerome Danner

    Posted by Jerome Danner | December 23, 2014, 9:20 AM
    • Jerome,

      J. W. invited me to post a few titles in response to your question. Though by no means exhaustive, this list of a few dozen works should give you some sense of how vigorous the apologetic effort was in the Enlightenment. Most of these books can be downloaded from Google Books or the Internet Archive.

      * William Adams, An Essay on Mr. Hume’s Essay on Miracles (1752)

      * George Benson, The Reasonablenesse of the Christian Religion (1743)

      * Thomas Bullock, The Reasoning of Christ and his Apostles in their Defence of Christianity, 2nd ed. (1726)

      * Joseph Butler, The Analogy of Religion (1736)

      * George Campbell, A Dissertation on Miracles (1762)

      * Samuel Chandler, A Vindication of the Christian Religion (1725)

      * Samuel Clarke, A Discourse Concerning the Being and Attributes of God, the Obligations of Natural Religion, and the Truth and Certainty of the Christian Revelation, 7th ed. (1728)

      * Humphrey Ditton, A Discourse Concerning the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, 2nd ed. (1714)

      * William Dodwell, The Nature, Procedure, Extent, Value and Effects of a Rational Faith Considered (1745)

      * John Douglas, The Criterion: Or, Miracles Examined (1757)

      * James Foster, The Usefulness, Truth, and Excellency of the Christian Revelation Defended, 2nd ed. (1731)

      * William Harris, The Reasonableness of Believing in Christ, and the Unreasonableness of Infidelity (1729)

      * Robert Jenkin, The Reasonableness and Certainty of the Christian Religion, 2 vols. (1698)

      * Nathaniel Lardner, The Credibility of the Gospel History, 17 vols. (1727-55)

      * John Leland, The Divine Authority of the Old and New Testament Asserted. With a Particular Vindication of the Character of Moses, and the Prophets, Our Saviour Jesus Christ, and His Apostles, Against the Unjust Aspersions and False Reasonings of a Book, Entitled, The Moral Philosopher. To which is added a Defence of this Book Against the Exceptions and Misrepresentations in the Second Volume of the Moral Philosopher. (1737)

      * John Leland, A Defence of Christianity, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (1753)

      * John Leland, A View of the Principal Deistical Writers, 2 vols. (1754)

      * John Leland, The Advantage and Necessity of the Christian Revelation, 2 vols. (1764)

      * Charles Leslie, A Short and Easie Method with the Deists (1698)

      * George Lyttleton, Observations on the Conversion and Apostleship of St. Paul (1747)

      * James MacKnight, The Truth of the Gospel History Shewed (1763)

      * Zachary Pearce, The Miracles of Jesus Vindicated, 4 brief vols. (1729)

      * Richard Price, Four Dissertations (1767)

      * Thomas Randolph, The Christian’s Faith a Rational Assent (1744)

      * Philip Skelton, Ophiomaches: or, Deism Revealed (1749)

      * Thomas Stackhouse, A Fair State of the Controversy between Mr Woolston and His Adversaries (1730)

      * Thomas Stackhouse, A Defence of the Christian Religion, 2nd ed. (1733)

      * Henry Stebbing, A Defence of the Scripture History (1730)

      * Henry Stebbing, A Discourse Concerning the Use and Advantages of the Gospel Revelation (1730)

      * Henry Stebbing, A Discourse on Our Saviour’s Miraculous Power of Healing (1730)

      * Henry Stebbing, The Oxford Young Gentleman’s Reply to a Book Entitled, Christianity not Founded on Argument (1743)

      * Henry Stebbing, Christianity Justified upon the Scripture Foundation (1750)

      * Arthur Ashley Sykes, An Essay Upon the Truth of the Christian Religion (1725)

      * Arthur Ashley Sykes, The Principles and Connexions of Natural and Revealed Religion Distinctly Considered (1740)

      * Arthur Ashley Sykes, A Brief Discourse Concerning the Credibility of Miracles and Revelation (1742)

      * George Wade, Two Discourses (1729)

      * Daniel Waterland, Scripture Vindicated, 3 vols. (1730-34)

      * William Worthington, The Evidence of Christianity Deduced from Facts and the Testimony of Sense, 2 vols. (1769)

      Posted by Tim McGrew | December 24, 2014, 1:09 PM
    • Jerome,

      J. W. invited me to post some titles in response to your query. This list of about three dozen titles, which is by no means exhaustive, will give you some sense of the vigorous apologetic industry in England during the Enlightenment.

      Most of these works can be downloaded from Google Books or the Internet Archive.

      * William Adams, An Essay on Mr. Hume’s Essay on Miracles (1752)

      * George Benson, The Reasonablenesse of the Christian Religion (1743)

      * Thomas Bullock, The Reasoning of Christ and his Apostles in their Defence of Christianity, 2nd ed. (1726)

      * Joseph Butler, The Analogy of Religion (1736)

      * George Campbell, A Dissertation on Miracles (1762)

      * Samuel Chandler, A Vindication of the Christian Religion (1725)

      * Samuel Clarke, A Discourse Concerning the Being and Attributes of God, the Obligations of Natural Religion, and the Truth and Certainty of the Christian Revelation, 7th ed. (1728)

      * Humphrey Ditton, A Discourse Concerning the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, 2nd ed. (1714)

      * William Dodwell, The Nature, Procedure, Extent, Value and Effects of a Rational Faith Considered (1745)

      * John Douglas, The Criterion: Or, Miracles Examined (1757)

      * James Foster, The Usefulness, Truth, and Excellency of the Christian Revelation Defended, 2nd ed. (1731)

      * William Harris, The Reasonableness of Believing in Christ, and the Unreasonableness of Infidelity (1729)

      * Robert Jenkin, The Reasonableness and Certainty of the Christian Religion, 2 vols. (1698)

      * Nathaniel Lardner, The Credibility of the Gospel History, 17 vols. (1727-55)

      * John Leland, The Divine Authority of the Old and New Testament Asserted. With a Particular Vindication of the Character of Moses, and the Prophets, Our Saviour Jesus Christ, and His Apostles, Against the Unjust Aspersions and False Reasonings of a Book, Entitled, The Moral Philosopher. To which is added a Defence of this Book Against the Exceptions and Misrepresentations in the Second Volume of the Moral Philosopher. (1737)

      * John Leland, A Defence of Christianity, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (1753)

      * John Leland, A View of the Principal Deistical Writers, 2 vols. (1754)

      * John Leland, The Advantage and Necessity of the Christian Revelation, 2 vols. (1764)

      * Charles Leslie, A Short and Easie Method with the Deists (1698)

      * George Lyttleton, Observations on the Conversion and Apostleship of St. Paul (1747)

      * James MacKnight, The Truth of the Gospel History Shewed (1763)

      * Zachary Pearce, The Miracles of Jesus Vindicated, 4 brief vols. (1729)

      * Richard Price, Four Dissertations (1767)

      * Thomas Randolph, The Christian’s Faith a Rational Assent (1744)

      * Philip Skelton, Ophiomaches: or, Deism Revealed (1749)

      * Thomas Stackhouse, A Fair State of the Controversy between Mr Woolston and His Adversaries (1730)

      * Thomas Stackhouse, A Defence of the Christian Religion, 2nd ed. (1733)

      * Henry Stebbing, A Defence of the Scripture History (1730)

      * Henry Stebbing, A Discourse Concerning the Use and Advantages of the Gospel Revelation (1730)

      * Henry Stebbing, A Discourse on Our Saviour’s Miraculous Power of Healing (1730)

      * Henry Stebbing, The Oxford Young Gentleman’s Reply to a Book Entitled, Christianity not Founded on Argument (1743)

      * Henry Stebbing, Christianity Justified upon the Scripture Foundation (1750)

      * Arthur Ashley Sykes, An Essay Upon the Truth of the Christian Religion (1725)

      * Arthur Ashley Sykes, The Principles and Connexions of Natural and Revealed Religion Distinctly Considered (1740)

      * Arthur Ashley Sykes, A Brief Discourse Concerning the Credibility of Miracles and Revelation (1742)

      * George Wade, Two Discourses (1729)

      * Daniel Waterland, Scripture Vindicated, 3 vols. (1730-34)

      * William Worthington, The Evidence of Christianity Deduced from Facts and the Testimony of Sense, 2 vols. (1769)

      Posted by Tim McGrew | December 24, 2014, 1:51 PM
      • Well, thank you very much for the list. I would have never guessed that the defense of the Christian faith was so strong then with Christian writing. It may take a while, but hopefully I will get to these works some day.

        Posted by Jerome Danner | December 28, 2014, 7:06 PM

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