“Mission statements” for organizations and individuals are prevalent today. Johann Sebastian Bach did that 200 years ago.
Johann Sebastian Bach, the youngest in a family of German musicians, was baptized on March 23, 1685, two days old, in Eisenach. He excelled at music, and his skills increased when, at age 9, he moved in with an older brother who taught music.
Johann also loved Scripture. He collected a library of 83 volumes that included the Bible, Luther’s writings, and the works of Luther’s followers. He soon combined his love of music and Scripture, penning this note in the margin of 1 Chronicles 25, the chapter in which King David commissioned the temple musicians: “This chapter is the true foundation for all God-pleasing music.”
Johann would travel any distance to hear good music. Often he tramped 30 miles to Hamburg or 60 miles to Celle to hear famous organists. At age 20, hearing that a renowned organist would perform in Lubeck, he persuaded his superiors to give him a month’s leave of absence, and he made the 200-mile trip by foot.
Three years later he announced his life’s purpose: to create “well-regulated church music to the glory of God.” He believed music should exist only for God’s glory, and when he sat down to compose he often scribbled J.J. on his blank pages: Jesu Juva—Help me, Jesus. At the manuscript’s end, he jotted S.D.G.—Soli Deo Gloria—to God alone, the glory.
Bach served as court musician at Weimar and Cothen, then taught music in Leipzig until his death. He fathered 20 children during his life and hundreds of compositions.
He received little fame during his lifetime and died in relative obscurity. His grave was not marked. After his death, his music was largely forgotten until Mendelssohn rediscovered it. Bach himself had remained modest. When a friend once praised his skill as an organist, he shrugged and smiled. “There is nothing very wonderful about it,” he said. “You have only to hit the right notes at the right moment and the instrument does the rest.”
David and the temple officials chose the descendants of Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun to be in charge of music. They were to praise the Lord by playing cymbals, harps and other stringed instruments. (1 Chronicles 25:1)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Mar.23.