Reformed Churchmen

We are Confessional Calvinists and a Prayer Book Church-people. In 2012, we remembered the 350th anniversary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer; also, we remembered the 450th anniversary of John Jewel's sober, scholarly, and Reformed "An Apology of the Church of England." In 2013, we remembered the publication of the "Heidelberg Catechism" and the influence of Reformed theologians in England, including Heinrich Bullinger's Decades. For 2014: Tyndale's NT translation. For 2015, John Roger, Rowland Taylor and Bishop John Hooper's martyrdom, burned at the stakes. Books of the month. December 2014: Alan Jacob's "Book of Common Prayer" at: January 2015: A.F. Pollard's "Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformation: 1489-1556" at: February 2015: Jaspar Ridley's "Thomas Cranmer" at:

Sunday, September 14, 2014

14 September 1741 A.D. George Fredrick Handel Finishes “The Messiah”

14 September 1741 A.D. George Fredrick Handel Finishes “The Messiah”

Dr. Rusten tells the story with a few interpolated musings.

Rusten, E. Michael and Rusten, Sharon. The One Year Christian History. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2003. 

George Frederick Handel was born in 1685, the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach.  Handel’s father was the town surgeon of a suburb of Halle, Germany. His mother was the daughter of a Lutheran pastor.  Handel was baptized as a Lutheran Churchman.

Handel was sent off to classical school.  His father wanted him to be a lawyer.  But, Handel was expressing interest in music, but his father forbad it, even burning some instruments in the home to foreclose further interest.  However, a relative gave access to a clavichord to the young Handel.

One day after Sunday worship, the young Handel took to the organ.  The Duke heard the lad.  The Duke encouraged the father to expose the young George to musical studies in a formal way.  The young Handel took lessons from the organmeister of Liebenfrauerchkirche in Halle.  By age 12, Handel wrote his first composition.  He was good enough to serve as a substitute for the organmeister.

By 1702, respecting his father’s wishes, he studied law at the University of Halle. He switched his concentration, however, towards music.

In 1712, he moved to England.  His fortunes rose and fell with varying monarchs as well as competition with English composers. He struggled.  The Church of England criticized him for performing his oratorios in secular theaters, e.g. “Esther” and “Israel in Egypt.”

By 1741, his health was failing.

But two events changed his fortunes:

  1. He was given a libretto for a life of Christ with the Biblical words and
  2. 3 Dublin charities commissioned his musical production for various fund-raising events.

On 22 August 1741, he began composing “The Messiah.” 24 days later and with 260 pages of music, he finished “The Messiah” on 14 September 1741.  When done, he sobbed saying, “Whether I was in the body or out of it when I wrote it, I know not.”

The premiere performance was held in Dublin on 13 April 1742.  The proceeds of the charity event freed 142 from debtors’ prison.

In 1743, it was performed in London.  The King was present.  When the “Hallelujah Chorus” began, England’s King stood up as a sign of duty and respect for His Majesty—the King and Kings and Lord of Lords.  The audience followed suit. The tradition prevails to this day.

Handel gave 30 performances of “The Messiah.”  One was done in a church;  John Wesley was in attendance.

Handel’s last performance of “The Messiah” was on 6 April 1759.  After the performance, Handel fainted at the organ.  8 days later, he died.

Handel was buried in Westminster Abbey.  His statute with a manuscript of Messiah in his hand says, “I know that my Redeemer liveth...”

He died in rented quarters.  He died at 25 Brook Street in the Mayfair Section of London in rented quarters.  He died here.

Colossians 3:16

1599 Geneva Bible (GNV)

16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you plenteously in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing your own selves, in [a]Psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with a grace in your hearts to the Lord,


  1. Colossians 3:16 By Psalms he meaneth all godly songs, which were written upon divers occasions, and by hymns, all such as contain the praise of God, and by spiritual songs, other more peculiar and artificious songs which were also in praise of God, but they were made fuller of music.
    A wonderful rendition by the King’s College, Cambridge is available at: .  It is 2 hours and about 40 minutes. 

  1. How often do you listen to “The Messiah?”  Easter? Christmas?  Where does it place in your orbit of Christian music?  Have you ever had a course in the “history of sacred music?”  Does your church show respect for musical literacy, pipe organs and sacred music?
  2. The Rev. Dr. John Stott played this over and over as death approached.  What music will you play or hear if you knew you were terminally ill and near death? 
  3. Or, will it be wingnutted-rap-trap-cocaine-laced lyrics of CCM written by some theological nitwit with no musical education or liturgical background (like TBNers and Hillbilly gummers, drummers, strummers and illiterate bummers)? 
  4. Or, Psalms?  Or, classical hymns?  Or, what? 
  5. Do you understand what “standing” means in the military?  (Juniors “stand” in the presence of superiors, a long tradition.) Or, with the King of England “standing” when the “Hallelujah Chorus” was sung?
  6. Are all the tunes too difficult for a good choir?  E.g “He Shall Feed His Flock Like a Shepherd?”
  7. Would the OT and NT canonical writers have enjoyed “The Messiah?”  For example, Isaiah or any of the Gospel writers?  Or, St. Paul?


Dinwiddie, Richard D. “Messiah: Behind the Scenes of Handel’s Masterpiece.” CT. 26 (December 17, 1982): 12-20.

Fuller-Maitland, John Alexander, and William Barclay Squire. “Handel, George Frederick.” DNB. 8: 1161-75.

Kavanaugh, Patrick. Spiritual Lives of the Great Composer. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996. 26-34.

MacMillan, J.B. “Handel, George Frederic (1685-1759).” NIDCC. 450.

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