Turn and Live (Artful Devotion)

Warhol, Andy_Repent and Sin No More
Andy Warhol (American, 1928–1987), Repent and Sin No More!, 1985–86. Synthetic polymer and silkscreen ink on canvas, 20 × 16 in. (50.8 × 40.6 cm).

“When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die. Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions that he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just?

“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the LORD GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the LORD GOD; so turn, and live.”

—Ezekiel 18:26–32

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HYMN: “Sinners, Turn, Why Will You Die?” by Charles Wesley, 1742

Sinners, turn: why will you die?
God, your Maker, asks you why.
God, who did your being give,
made you himself, that you might live;
he the fatal cause demands,
asks the work of his own hands.
Why, you thankless creatures, why
will you cross his love, and die?

Sinners, turn: why will you die?
God, your Savior, asks you why.
God, who did your souls retrieve,
died himself, that you might live.
Will you let him die in vain?
Crucify your Lord again?
Why, you ransomed sinners, why
will you slight his grace and die?

Sinners, turn: why will you die?
God, the Spirit, asks you why;
he, who all your lives hath strove,
wooed you to embrace his love.
Will you not his grace receive?
Will you still refuse to live?
Why, you long-sought sinners, why
will you grieve your God, and die?

You, on whom he favors showers,
you, possessed of nobler powers,
you, of reason’s powers possessed,
you, with will and memory blest,
you, with finer sense endued,
creatures capable of God;
noblest of his creatures, why,
why will you forever die?

You, whom he ordained to be
transcripts of the Trinity,
you, whom he in life doth hold,
you for whom himself was sold,
you, on whom he still doth wait,
whom he would again create;
made by him, and purchased, why,
why will you forever die?

You, who own his record true,
you, his chosen people, you,
you, who call the Savior Lord,
you, who read his written word,
you, who see the gospel light,
claim a crown in Jesu’s right;
why will you, ye Christians, why,
will the house of Israel die?

Turn, he cries, ye sinners, turn;
by his life your God hath sworn;
he would have you turn and live,
he would all the world receive;
he hath brought to all the race
full salvation by his grace;
he hath not one soul passed by;
why will you resolve to die?

Can ye doubt, if God is love,
if to all his mercies move?
Will ye not his word receive?
Will ye not his oath believe?
See, the suffering God appears!
Jesus weeps! Believe his tears!
Mingled with his blood they cry,
why will you resolve to die?

This Wesleyan hymn of invitation has historically been paired with a number of different tunes. I quite like it with the Welsh ABERYSTWYTH by Joseph Parry, composed in 1879, but I can’t find any such recordings. Here’s the sheet music.

Sinners, Turn, Why Will You Die (hymn sheet)

I did find a solo performance by Alan Lett, from his 2006 album Heart, Soul, and Hymns, that employs a very lovely and effective tune in the minor mode. I’m not sure whether the tune is traditional or contemporary, perhaps one he wrote himself, and I can’t find any contact info for him online, as it appears that he is no longer active as a music artist. Do you recognize the music? I do know that Lett is not only singing on the track but is also at the keys, and that the vocal and piano arrangements are his own—both are impressive. He cuts the length of Wesley’s text considerably, though, singing only verse 2.

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“Over the course of a prominent and prolific career,” writes the Andy Warhol Museum, “Andy Warhol both pictured religious subjects and practiced his religious faith. Yet in twentieth-century histories of modern American art, religion is largely excluded. Warhol was perhaps doubly excluded, as a gay man, and a believing Christian, whose identity in the art world and in American society was made complicated by those identities.”

Warhol’s Repent and Sin No More! silkscreen prints are part of a series executed toward the end of his life, with source material pulled from religious ads and pamphlets.

In January I took a weekend trip to Pittsburgh to see the exhibition Andy Warhol: Revelation [previously], which examined the pop artist’s Byzantine Catholic faith in relation to his artistic output. It actually exceeded my expectations! While there, I attended a museum lecture by Jonathan A. Anderson, coauthor of Modern Art and the Life of a Culture: The Religious Impulses of Modernism [previously], that contextualized and commented on the exhibition. You can watch it in full in the video below.


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Proper 21, cycle A, click here.

One thought on “Turn and Live (Artful Devotion)

  1. I really appreciate the scriptural content -and- details about Andy Warhol’s identity, a believer and gay. All I knew was the Campbell soup cans 😂 Thanks to this post, I will get to know him better!

    Liked by 1 person

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