If you have serious doubts about Christianity,
Some Bible scholars find the Scriptural evidence for angelic music less than compelling. We are indeed exploring the very frontiers of revealed knowledge. That’s what makes this chapter important.
We will examine the realm of human experience to see how it conforms to some of the Biblical expositions given in chapters one and three.
Down through history there have been innumerable reports from reliable Christian witnesses of angelic visitations. A number of these are particularly relevant to musicians. Though this subject seems bizarre, reports are too numerous and the implications too profound to be ignored in a serious work on the Christian view of music.
Our final authority is Scripture alone. Yet few would deny that testimonies of conversions can help our dull minds see with greater clarity what Scripture means by being born again. Similarly, Christian testimony may help sharpen the image of music drawn from our Biblical research.
Even if the phenomena described were a mere trick of the human mind (and I don’t believe they are), they could still be indirect evidence for the existence of music in the next world. The possibility of such music seems so strongly stamped upon the human psyche as to invite the conclusion that it was placed there by the One who made us. If so, I cannot imagine God placing within us expectations that will never be satisfied.
The conviction that heaven is a place of music has practical implications. Our beliefs remarkably influence our music. John Cage’s belief that the entire world is the product of nothing but chance caused his music to degenerate into literally random sounds. As another example, consider a musician whose general attitude to life is that what’s new is best. Such a person will almost inevitably produce quite different music to someone who believes in ‘the good old days’. Likewise, a Christian’s belief in heavenly music is likely to affect his or her musical composition. In fact, heavenly strains have apparently directly influenced some Christian music (Examples are given in Chapter 10)
The material presented in this chapter has the potential to increase our faith in the possibility of receiving heavenly inspiration or heavenly interaction with our music. The result could transport our music from the mediocre to the miraculous. In addition, this survey should strengthen our conviction that music is very much more than a temporal amusement. The more we grasp the full significance of music, the higher will be our motivation to bestow upon it the prayerful dedication it deserves.
I have agonized over this chapter. I feel a responsibility to take on this expedition Christians with totally opposed views of the supernatural. Some will find it the most thrilling part of the book. Others, especially those who need it the most, may initially have a very different reaction.
I ask no-one to compromise his or her convictions. If you feel the urge to burn me at the stake, I simply ask for a fair trial – and a rainy day. Hopefully, as you read further, your fears will prove unfounded. If the atmosphere becomes too rarefied, temporarily abort this part of the mission and go to the security of regions more thoroughly charted by Scripture. This you will find in subsequent chapters, especially chapter four.
Alternatively, if you have no qualms about this subject, I ask your patience with those who require what may seem superfluous explanations.
Though this chapter meanders through background information to help you better evaluate the authenticity of each report, don’t lose sight of the goal: to expand our knowledge of music beyond planet earth to better equip us to view music from God’s glorious perspective, and then to allow this fresh vision to impact your life and your music as the Spirit leads.
If your faith in the reality of heavenly music increases by a fraction of a mustard seed, it will be more than worth it. If, moreover, your understanding of the nature of heavenly music increases, it is priceless. And if heaven’s music begins to influence your own music. . . . Words fail.
I sat enthralled as a humble Indian man addressed a large congregation in Adelaide, South Australia. Rev. Larno Longchar was describing an amazing revival sweeping the length and breadth of his home state of Nagaland. His local church alone now had 15,000 members. Four times in one year its building had to be extended to accommodate those who were being saved.
The ‘outpouring’ began in 1976 after the ‘Baptist’ churches in Nagaland had kept their pledge to pray for revival. Their twenty-four-hour-a-day prayer chain had continued unbroken for an entire year.
As a direct result of the revival, the state’s smoking, drinking, cinema attendance, divorce and suicide rates all dramatically fell. A flabbergasted magistrate reported that in six months only one criminal case had appeared before his city’s courts. Repentance was so widespread and genuine that precautions like locking houses became quite unnecessary. Former Hindus and head-hunters joined the ranks of fervent Christians confessing their sins and praying for hours at a time.
I could detect no boasting in Rev. Longchar’s address. He spoke of himself surprisingly little. A major recurring theme was that there was nothing unique about his state’s experience. He insisted that we could have the same type of revival.
The following is a slightly condensed transcript of part of the message I heard on March 8, 1981 (used by permission). The incident described would have occurred no more than five years previous. Rev. Longchar told us:
In one of the district capitals, near Burma, we had [a] revival meeting for four days. There were 35,000 people in a crusade.
One of our friends was preaching. God used him in a very wonderful way that morning. About 10,000 people rushed to the pulpit to confess their sins – to acknowledge the lordship of Jesus Christ in their hearts. There was a deep confession of sin going on. We were helping the people – about five hundred of us – as counsellors. When we were praying, we heard a sound of angels singing – a huge group of people singing in the sky above. [It was a] very lovely song:
Jesus is coming soon:
Jesus is coming soon.
Repent, repent, repent.
[My comment: If you think this prophecy to be premature, I don’t know what you will make of Revelation 22:20.]
It was so lovely.
For ten minutes the angels continued to sing. We didn’t see them, but we heard the sound. Oh, it was so wonderful!
One of my friends took his tape recorder and recorded this song.
Our people love to sing that song – all over Nagaland today. They receive much blessing through singing it.’
Rev. Longchar’s description of the angelic singing as ‘so lovely’ should not be taken lightly. After visiting Nagaland, Pastor Des Short, of New Zealand, described the Naga people as ‘exceptionally musical.’ He claimed that, in marked contrast to western people, the majority of Naga people are born with perfect pitch. Even children at play sing in four-part harmony.
Commencing at Beddgelert in 1817, a powerful move of God resulted in the salvation of multiplied thousands of Welsh people. From the midst of this move comes a report of people transfixed by what seemed to be massed heavenly choirs in the air singing songs of praise.
Decades later, (1851-2) in a small Montgomeryshire village, angelic singing signaled the commencement of a local Welsh revival. It was heard by a few disheartened Christians leaving their church after a seemingly fruitless week-long series of prayer meetings for revival. The ‘indistinct’ (Because it was in an angelic language?) but melodious sounds seemed to come from high above the church they had just left.
Next day, they discovered that many others in the district had heard the same beautiful music. Some had even gone outside to hear it and concluded it must be angelic. No other explanation was ever found.
Soon hundreds were flocking to the churches and experiencing the prayed-for outpouring of the Spirit.
A remarkable parallel occurred across the English Channel, nearly two centuries earlier.
A revival in ‘the valleys of Dauphiny,’ amongst Protestants in late Seventeenth Century France, was cited by John Wesley as proof that God acts in a supernatural way. This Cevennes revival was preceded by widespread reports of ‘strange sounds in the air: the sound of a trumpet and a harmony of voices.’ And in Orthès it was said that in every house resided at least one person who had heard heavenly music.
Angels are moved by human activities. They long to see persecuted saints avenged (Revelation 16:5-6; 18:20-21,24). They serve us, (Hebrews 1:14) responding to our physical needs (eg, 1 Kings 19:5-6) and our prayers (e.g. Daniel 10:12). They protect us from danger (e.g. 2 Kings 6.16-17Psalm 34:7, Acts 12:6 ff) even in situations requiring almost instantaneous reaction (e.g. Psalm 91:11-12; Daniel 6:22). Scripture leaves us in no doubt that our actions greatly influence heavenly beings. Paul even urged women to cover their heads ‘because of the angels’ (1 Corinthians 11:10, cf Ephesians 3:10).
Moreover, terrestrial events and celestial music are frequently intertwined. If angels rejoice over the salvation of the lost, (Luke 15:7,10) it is hard to imagine such sophisticated beings celebrating without music (cf Luke 15:23-25). The angelic Christmas carol heard by startled shepherds focused upon earthly events (Luke 2:10-14). Note also the earth-centered lyrics of the song of heavenly beings in Revelation 5:9-10, praising the Lamb who redeemed people from ‘every tribe and language and people and nation’ to ‘reign on the earth’. Earth-bound psalmists urged angelic hosts to bless the Lord, (e.g. Psalm 103:20-21; 148:2) and in Revelation 5:13 we find angels uniting with people in praise that is quite possibly musical. Scripture even speaks of the exalted Son of God singing in our midst, (Hebrews 2:12) and of God the Father singing ‘over’ His people (Zephaniah 3:17). Clearly, heaven’s music often focuses on humans or is a response to human activities.
So it seems consistent with Scriptural revelation that many people insist they have heard angels singing above the sound of congregational musical praise. These claims – too numerous too innumerate here – often originate from people whose extensive familiarity with the building and congregation render it unlikely that they could be deceived by acoustics or by the musical ability of the congregation. Taken individually, one may wonder just how objective these reports are. However, their number, consistency and the range of sources, render them difficult to dismiss.
These accounts suggest the possibility of our musical praise inspiring heavenly beings to join us in worship. This seems to fit nicely the above-mentioned pieces of the jigsaw Scripture provides.
We recognize that our musical praise ascends to heaven. So it is hardly surprising if the reverse sometimes happens, and heaven’s strains reach human ears. And the time when this is most likely to occur is when a whole congregation is focusing upon heaven, engaged in what must be the favorite activity of heavenly beings – musical praise. If these beautiful creatures get excited about our initial coming to the Lord, it must thrill them to see us unitedly pouring out our praises to the One both we and they love so deeply. Surely, at such times, they must long to mingle their song with ours as it ascends to heaven’s Throne.
Rev. Colin Urquhart announced the hymn: Wesley’s ‘O for a thousand tongues.’ There certainly weren’t a thousand in the congregation. Encouraging them, the Anglican priest said they were joining heaven’s hosts in praising the Lord. They should ask God to make them conscious of this, he suggested.
During the second verse, trumpet-playing was heard. Rev. Urquhart was unmoved. It must be the church trumpeter. As the music continued, however, he discovered the trumpeter was not even present. Moreover, it was not one, but several trumpets melodiously merging with the organ. Others in the congregation heard it too.
The organist also had a fascinating story to tell. Inexplicably, the organ trumpet stop had refused to work throughout the hymn. It functioned perfectly before and after.
This incident bubbles with stimulating concepts.
Perhaps few took it seriously, but the congregation actually prayed for a revelation about heavenly music. I wonder of how many Christians it could be said, ‘You heard not because you asked not’ (cf James 4.2) With such things, we expect heaven to take the initiative. But heaven has already taken the initiative, two thousand years ago, when Jesus said, ‘Ask and you shall receive, that your joy may be full’ (John 16:24).
Sceptics will say the fact that they prayed for an awareness of an angelic presence proves the phenomenon was due to auto-suggestion. But note that Rev. Urquhart’s mind immediately leapt to a natural explanation. Further, most Christians are preconditioned to expect, if anything, a heavenly choir, not trumpets. Moreover, auto-suggestion would produce individual differences: some would see angels, some hear voices, others hear harps, and so on. Then there’s the mystery of the trumpet stop to explain away.
Rev. Urquhart’s description suggests heavenly trumpets are capable of far greater precision than those of Bible times (see end of Note 1.7). We must not imagine that just because heaven is described in the Bible, heaven’s ‘technology’ is stuck in the horse-and-chariot era.
I think we can all feel rather flattered by the fact that in this instance, heavenly musicians were content to quietly accompany earthly music, rather than dominate the whole event. Truly, such glorious, angelic beings are ‘all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation’ (Hebrews 1:14).
As we leave this incident, we should note that it didn’t occur in just any church service. It was in the midst of a significant revival.
Just twenty days into the 1980s Mrs. Rhonda Walters, engaged in short-term ministry in India, attended a church service on the flat roof of a house on the outskirts of Coimbatore, out from Madras. There were no musical instruments. The congregation had only their clapping hands and overflowing hands to embellish their singing. ‘A wave of holiness’ was one of Rhonda’s attempts to describe the Spirit-charged atmosphere as those Indian Christians worshipped their Lord in song. Though words failed her, she was sure of one thing – those Christians had something she had never experienced in her homeland of Australia.
With eyes closed, engulfed in wonder and worship, she became conscious of instrumental music. Some of them must have gone home and returned with instruments, she thought. She assumed one instrument was a guitar. She could also hear what might have been a harp and violin. There was no percussion or wind instruments. The music, which had started so softly and unobtrusively in harmony with the singing, began to crescendo. The orchestra of stringed instruments grew louder and louder. Rhonda opened her eyes to see who was playing and to her amazement there was no-one. The music came in waves and finally faded away.
The experience shook her, being so contrary to anything she had ever known. It was several weeks before she dared mention it to anyone. When I interviewed Rhonda several years later the experience was still vivid in her mind.
I’ve heard of a report that above the sound of congregational worship was once heard the singing of a beautiful male voice. Frank Longino writes of something similar. ‘A few times, I have been in services where we rose to such heights [in worship] that we began to be conscious of a tremendously overwhelming note rising out of the mass of sound; higher than any I’d heard, richer than any I’d experienced.’ (From a magazine article published November 1976. At that time Longino was senior pastor of Valley Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He is a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in that city.) In both reports the phenomenon was interpreted not as being angelic, but as the singing of the Son of God Himself. What Bible-believer could deny the possibility?
We should note, however, that a heavenly musical response to our music need not necessarily be audible to our ears. Just as angels probably intervene in our lives more often than we realize, celestial music and our music might be more interwoven than we imagine.
In 1937, Grace Murphy had a fascinating experience: she died.
Billy Graham stated that many Christians on the verge of death report hearing heavenly strains. Unfortunately, he does not elucidate. An example of what he may have had in mind is given in the Appendix, Note 2.4 concerning August Hermann Francke.
Mrs. Murphy, however, having been raised from the dead, was able to provide us with a fuller account.
Medical technology being what it is, an increasing number of people are being revived after clinical death. I am very skeptical of so-called out-of-body experiences sometimes associated with this. Medical studies suggest that whatever this phenomenon is, it cannot be categorized as hallucination or drug-induced (Appendix, Note 2.1). However, Satan goes to considerable lengths to give people a false understanding of life-after-death through such things as séances. I believe non-Christians are wide open for similar deception nearing death.
We should be careful, however, not to allow a commendable eagerness to reject Satan’s sludge become so intense that we discard God’s gold as well. Blind faith in the spiritual experiences of non-Christians is foolish. But neither is blind, unthinking rejection of the testimonies of people redeemed by the blood of the Lamb the epitome of wisdom.
Reports from committed Christians at a time when they were being earnestly prayed for, are worthy of closer examination, especially when the results seem to be glorifying to God and align with Scriptural revelation.
Nevertheless, non-Christians have so distorted and perverted this subject that I can deeply identify with anyone on the verge of converting the following pages into paper darts. For many of us, exposure to non-Christian accounts of life after (clinical) death has either eroded our confidence even in Christian accounts, or has raised doubts as to the reality of hell. Appendix, Note 2.2 should prove beneficial to readers who have suffered either of these reactions.
It is hard to imagine an experience more deeply branded with the marks of God than Mrs. Murphy’s. The following facts, drawn from her daughter’s book, strongly argue for the authenticity of her amazing claim to have heard music in Paradise.
1. She had definitely been born again. The genuineness of her conversion is clearly confirmed by her daughter’s detailed account.
2. The Lord revealed to Mrs. Murphy that she would suddenly die that very day. So certain was she, that she told her stunned pastor and made funeral arrangements, even though there was no physical indication that death was imminent. She had complete peace about it all.
3. From start to finish, the whole episode was immersed in prayer. The revelation that she would die occurred while she was in prayer. Being a Sunday morning, she was able to attend church twice, share with her pastor and devote more time to the Lord than would otherwise have been possible. She died in the evening, while in prayer with her daughter, Jean. Finally, she came back to life as a result of Jean’s fervent, faith-filled prayer.
4. She was pronounced dead by a registered nurse who would have dearly wanted to detect signs of life.
5. Her doctor, arriving after she had revived, examined the damage done to her body and could not understand how she could have undergone such a major heart-attack without dying.
6. There was no possibility of a drug-induced hallucination. No anesthetic or medication was used.
7. The Lord Jesus predominated in her visit to paradise. He appeared to her just before she died, escorted her to heaven and, in response to Jean’s prayer, led her back to earth again.
8. In her heavenly visit, she met biblical characters whose names she had never heard of before. By consulting a concordance, Jean confirmed that they were godly people mentioned in the Bible. This astounded Jean because she knew her newly converted mother had only recently commenced church attendance and had very limited Bible knowledge.
9. Mrs. Murphy gained the impression that her father was not in Paradise – thus indirectly supporting the Christian conviction that not all of Adam’s descendants will receive eternal life.
10. Orphaned when only three days old, Grace Murphy had no recollection of her mother’s likeness, yet she claimed to have met her in her journey to the next world. Some months later, her mother’s sister gave her a trunk that had been stored away from before Grace’s birth. Sifting through the contents for the first time, Grace instantly spotted her mother in a group photo, saying she was the one she had seen in heaven. Her aunt was stunned. As far as is known, that was the only photograph of her mother ever taken.
11. She had no desire to brag about her peep behind death’s veil. Indeed, she regarded it as too sacred to speak about. She spoke of it once to Jean and gave her permission to share it if she thought it would glorify God, but determined never to personally mention it again.
12. As might be expected if the Lord were in it, Grace fully recovered from her serious illness.
Music assumed high priority in her description of Paradise. The whole atmosphere seemed to be music. She described it as sounding something like an orchestra and organ playing together. Pastel colors moved and merged in harmony with the thrilling sounds.
It is noteworthy that several times afterward, Mrs. Murphy would become conscious of music that she recognized as being the same as she had heard in her heavenly encounter. Could it be that at times some of us hear such music and dismiss it without realizing its source? After all, we are even now spiritually seated with Christ in the heavenlies (Ephesians 2:6). Perhaps we are more in tune with heaven than most of us dare think.