I am the song leader in my church. I am not very proficient as a musician or a choral director. I pray that, someday soon, God will send someone more capable, to take this ministry from me. But for the time being it is my responsibility to select the music and lead the congregation in the singing every week.

I take that responsibility seriously. The hymns and songs that I select must be doctrinally sound, they must be appropriate for worship with a God-centered worldview, and, withing those parameters, I try to select music that will reinforce and, support the text and subject of my pastor’s messages.

Some of us have been singing the hymns for years; the words roll off our lips but the messages often don't engage our minds or penetrate our hearts. With the apostle Paul, I want the congregation to "sing with understanding."

So for the past couple years, it has been my practice to select one hymn each week, research it, and then highlight it with a short introductory commentary so that the congregation will be more informed regarding the origin, the author's testimony, or the doctrinal significance of the hymns we sing.

It is my intention here with this blog, to archive these hymn commentaries for my reference and to make them freely available to other church song leaders. For ease of reference, all the hymn commentaries in this blog will be titled IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. Other posts (which will be music ministry related opinion pieces) will be printed in lower case letters.

I know that some of the comments contain traces of my unique style, but please feel free to adapt them and use the content any way you can for the edification of your congregation and to the glory of God.

All I ask is that you leave a little comment should you find something helpful.

Ralph M. Petersen

Please follow this blog to keep notified of new entries.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

ONCE FOR ALL (Free From The Law)

Some Christian music historians have ranked Philip Bliss as the second greatest Christian songwriter in history.  In just twelve years, he had written several hundred hymn lyrics and music scores including:
I Gave My Life For Thee
It Is Well With My Soul
Almost Persuaded
Hallelujah, What A Savior!
Hold The Fort
Jesus Loves Even Me
Let The Lower Lights Be Burning
The Light Of The World Is Jesus
Wonderful Words Of Life

Philip died in a tragic train wreck at the age of 38 but, had he lived, he probably would have passed his peers, Fannie Crosby, Charles Wesley and Ira Sankey, in terms of the sheer number of compositions produced.  And he wanted his works to be freely used and enjoyed by the Church so none of his songs were ever copyrighted.

For Christmas in 1871, his wife gave him a bound copy of English periodicals called “Things New and Old.”  One of the articles referenced Romans 8:1-2 “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.”

Another passage, in that piece, was Hebrews 10:10. …we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
That article inspired Philip to write the hymn, ONCE FOR ALL (sometimes titled Free from The Law).

There is a lot of confusion about this subject and many people have perverted the doctrine of God’s grace, to imply that, once we are saved, we have the freedom to do whatever we want with no fear of His condemnation or wrath.

So, what does it mean to be “free from the law?”

The Law is strict prison master; It is consequential and unmerciful.  It is impossible to keep, and any infraction requires a death penalty.  That’s the environment we live in when we think that we can merit God’s favor by our own good works.  But God is merciful and has provided His free gift of undeserved grace for all who would believe. 

That is the Gospel; Jesus suffered, bled, and died so that anyone whose faith is in Christ alone, is free from the grip and the penalty of the Law.   There is no more sacrifice for sin; the penalty has been paid. 

Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome, “…for you are not under law but under grace.”  But that doesn’t mean that we can go on ignoring His revealed laws or that we can live according to our own desires.  Paul’s words are prefaced by the phrase, “… For sin shall NOT have dominion over you…”

Freedom from the Law also means that, after He saves us, His Spirit lives in us and He gives us the power to resist sin, obey Him, and serve Him.          

Christ has redeemed us ONCE FOR ALL. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017


What we call Contemporary Christian Music got its start in the middle of the twentieth century.  Baby boomers who were bored with the old music of the church brought new styles into the mainstream of American evangelical churches.
Much of the music deserved the criticism it got.  It was sometimes silly, doctrinally anemic, and borderline heretical; it was often man-centered and appealing to the flesh.  But, something amazing happened in the latter part of the century.   Contemporary Christian Music grew up. 

In the midst of all the clamor, emerged a plethora of excellent Christian composers, writers, and singers who brought us some of the best and most inspiring, classical and contemporary, God-honoring music in our lifetime.
It was in that musical environment, that a frustrated, renegade music professor developed a new, revolutionary approach to choral conducting.  Most of his contemporaries were highly critical but Dr. Gary Bonner’s master’s program produced hundreds of graduates who launched a rebirth in Church choir music throughout the Christian world.

Children’s music was elevated too.  A man named Ernie Rettino painted his face blue, put on some blue tights and a big foam costume in the shape of a book; and the character, Psalty, the Singing Hymnbook, was created.   Ernie and his wife, Debby, produced dozens of musicals designed to teach children biblical principles and doctrines using new and traditional hymns.

In one of their most successful productions, the characters took a Hymnological Adventure in a Time Machine.  They traveled back in history, to meet some famous hymn writers like David, the Shepherd King, Isaac Watts, and Fanny Crosby.  That musical resulted in teaching some of the greatest old hymns of our faith to a whole generation of children.
One of those hymns, TAKE MY LIFE AND LET IT BE, is a prayer of consecration written by Frances Havergal.   It may have been inspired by these words in Leviticus; “Consecrate yourselves and be holy, for I am holy. “

In Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, he wrote, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1).

In this hymn, Frances Havergal holds nothing back in her offering to the Lord.  She starts with a dedication of her life but then she gets specific; not only her life but all her days and every moment.  When she offers her hands and her feet, she is asking God to direct everything she does and everywhere she goes.  She submits every word from her lips and every thought to His control.  Her treasures, her will, and her heart; everything she has is Consecrated to God for His use and His glory. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017


(For this morning’s service, I selected one hymn for each of the Five Solas.) 

(Opening Hymn)


How can one be justified and receive eternal life?

That’s the most important question a man can ask.  And that question was the catalyst for the Reformation that resulted in the affirmation of the Doctrines of Grace.

“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).”  (Eph. 2:4-5)

Hymn – “AMAZING GRACE”      


The Reformers were guided by their convictions that the church had drifted far away from the essential, and non-negotiable, original teachings of Christianity regarding salvation.
Some of them tried, without success, to correct doctrinal deviations within the church.  The result of their attempts was tantamount to an all-out declaration of war.  Many of them were persecuted, imprisoned, or killed for teaching contrary to the church’s heretical practices.
In hindsight, we can see the sovereign Hand of God through all of it.  Because of the persecution, The Gospel of Jesus Christ was spread throughout the world.

"When the Lord stirred up Luther in Germany, Zuinglius at Zurich, and Calvin at Geneva, to set upon this great work [the Reformation], multitudes in all Nations begun to embrace the Truth, and to fly from the rents of Babel: Antichrist was made so naked and bare in all the filthinesse of his whoredomes, that the whole world was ready to forsake her."

Quoted from p. 63 in The Divine Right of the Gospel Ministry, by the London Provincial Assembly (1654).

The Church was teaching that salvation is obtained by our sacrifices, good works, indulgences, and a myriad of other ritualistic efforts.    But the Spirit of God revealed the Scriptures to Martin Luther, that clearly declared, “The Just shall Live by Faith.”  




The signature declaration of the Reformation is summarized in what we call the Five Solas which are five, short, disconnected phrases.  Each one is essential but they do not stand alone; they build on each other.  There are disagreements about the order in which they should be arranged but I am a simple man and I prefer this arrangement, in this single, 24-word sentence that makes it easy for me to remember and understand:

We are Saved by GRACE ALONE, through FAITH ALONE, in CHRIST ALONE, on the authority of SCRIPTURE ALONE, for the GLORY OF GOD ALONE.

The first stanza of the hymn we just sang (My Faith Has Found A Resting Place), declares that our faith is “not in devise nor creed.”  We do not trust in religious mechanisms, rituals, or practices.  Real saving faith has only one object; Christ, the Ever-Living One who was Crucified for our transgressions. 



It is SCRIPTURE that tells us who we are and what we are.  It is SCRIPTURE that informs us of our need of a Savior, and it is SCRIPTURE that tells us how we can be reconciled to God.  Scripture is God’s written revelation of Himself to us and it is our only sure authority in all matters of faith and practice. 


(closing hymn)


The goal and ultimate purpose of all life is to GLORIFY GOD.  We are commanded, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). 

Salvation is God’s plan, His work, and His sacrifice.  The motivation for Him saving His people was not to improve our lives; it is for His Manifest Glory.   And so, there is nothing we contribute except our sin.  ALL THE GLORY IN THE WORK OF SALVATION BELONGS TO GOD ALONE.

Sunday, October 22, 2017


{This is the hymns lineup for the third week of our monthlong emphasis on 

the  Five Solas of the Reformation.}


(Opening Hymn)
We will trust God's Word alone,
Where His perfect will is known;
Our traditions shift like sand
While His truth forever stands.
We will live by faith alone, 
Clothed in merit not our own;
All we claim is Jesus Christ
and His finished sacrifice.

Glory be, glory be to God alone,
Through the Church He redeemed and called His own.
He has freed us, He will keep us 'til we're safely home.
Glory be, glory be to God alone.

We are saved by grace alone-
Undeserved, yet freely shown;
No accomplishment on earth
Can achieve the second birt.
We will stand on Christ alone, 
The unyielding Cornerstone;
Nations rage and devils roar, 
Still, He reigns forevermore!

(C) 2016 - Words and Music by Chris Anderson and Bob Kauflin
Used by permission

(Song Service)

I've noticed a disturbing trend on social media, lately, where people are trying to render the Bible outdated and irrelevant.  Apparently, according to some, God has learned a few things and has changed His mind about sin.      

And some people are even suggesting that Christians who love God's Word might be violating the First Commandment by making an idol of the book.

You’ve heard me say this before, here and here; "There is an inseverable relationship between God and Scripture."  

The Word of God never changes because God never changes. 

This hymn starts by presenting the Living Word of God in human flesh.   The song moves us along from the Word to Wisdom, from Wisdom to Truth, and then from Truth to Light; all of those referencing Jesus Christ.  And then it transfers that picture of Light to the “hallowed page” which is the Written Word of God; the Bible.


My Old Bible

Though the cover is worn,
And the pages are torn,
And though places bear traces of tears,
Yet more precious than gold
Is this Book worn and old,
That can shatter and scatter my fears.

This old Book is my guide,
’Tis a friend by my side,
It will lighten and brighten my way;
And each promise I find
Soothes and gladdens the mind,
As I read it and heed it each day.

To this Book, I will cling,
Of its worth, I will sing,
Though great losses and crosses be mine;
For I cannot despair,
Though surrounded by care,
While possessing this blessing Divine.
—Author unknown


The Scriptures are God's final, trustworthy, and ultimate authority for all matters of our faith and practice.

That doesn't mean that the Bible is the only place where Truth is found, but it does mean that everything we learn about God and His world from any other presumed authorities, must be interpreted in the light of Scripture.  

The Bible gives us everything we need for our theology.  Every word of the 66 books of the Bible, is inspired by God's Holy Spirit.

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”  That was written by Paul to the Church at Rome and he repeated it, verbatim, in his letter to Timothy.  (Rom. 15:4 and 2 Tim. 2:16)

The reformation term is “Sola Scriptura,” which has to do with the sufficiency and efficacy of GOD’S WORD ALONE in all matters of faith and practice. 


(Closing Hymn)

This is God's Word.
In times past, He spoke it through His prophets.
In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son.
And today His Spirit speaks to us through His Written Word.

This book contains: 
the mind of God,
the state of man,
the way of salvation,
the doom of sinners,
and the happiness of believers.

Its doctrine is Holy,
its Precepts are binding,
its histories are TRUE
and its decisions are immutable.

Read it to be wise,
believe it to be safe
and practice it to be Holy.

Within its pages,
heaven is opened,
and the gates of hell disclosed.

Christ is its grand subject,
our good, its design,
and the glory of God, its end.

Read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully.

It is given to you in this life,
It will be opened at the judgment.
And it is established, unchanging forever.

It involves the highest responsibility,
It will reward your greatest labor,
and it will condemn all who trifle with its sacred contents!


Sunday, October 15, 2017


{This is the hymns lineup for the second week of our monthlong emphasis on 
the  Five Solas of the Reformation.}


(Opening Hymn)

(Song Service-)

It is impossible for any person to be saved by his own merits or by his own good works.  All humans have inherited a sin nature.  And so, we are, naturally, enemies of God and lovers of evil.  The biblical description of that condition is that we are born spiritually dead.  We need to be made alive before we can even have faith in Christ.
In Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, he wrote, “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by GRACE you have been saved), and (He) raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His GRACE in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by GRACE you have been saved through FAITH, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,  not of works, lest anyone should boast. 

And that passage, in Ephesians 2, is the scriptural basis for the first two of the five pillars of the Christian faith that we call the Five Solas of the Reformation.  We are saved by God’s GRACE ALONE and through FAITH ALONE in the merit of Christ Alone.


“…look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our FAITH, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”  (Heb. 12:2)

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” (1 Pet, 1:3)

Here is a quotation from a “personal confession” by Pastor John Piper -

“I was born into a believing family through no merit of my own at all.  I was given a mind to think and a heart to feel through no merit of my own at all. I was brought into the hearing of the Gospel through no merit of my own at all.  My rebellion was subdued, my hardness removed, my blindness overcome, and my deadness awakened through no merit of my own at all. Thus, I became a believer in Christ through no merit of my own at all.  And so, I am an heir of God with Christ through no merit of my own at all.  Now when I put forward effort to please the Lord who bought me, this is, to me, no merit at all, because:
…it is not I, but the GRACE of God that is with me. (1 Cor. 15:10)
…God is working in me that which is pleasing in his sight. (Heb. 13:21)
…he fulfills every resolve for good by his power. (2 Thes. 1:11)
And therefore, there is no ground for boasting in myself, but only in God’s mighty GRACE.
…Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord. (1 Cor. 1:31)



(Closing Song)


Monday, October 9, 2017


{This month (October 2017) marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and so, each week, all the music I select for our worship services, will highlight one of the Five Solas of the Reformation with brief commentaries.}

(Opening Hymn-)

Because today is our communion Sunday, we will emphasize the atoning work of CHRIST ALONE for our salvation.


(Song Service-)

As a young priest, Martin Luther began to question many of the errant beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church.  He was deemed a renegade, a troublemaker, and a heretic, and he was in danger of excommunication or possibly execution.

In the 1953 movie about him, there is a scene where, in a heated argument, one of his superiors confronted him and demanded, “If we removed all these rituals and relics as you say we should, what would you suggest we replace them with?”

Luther’s classic one-word answer was direct and powerful.  He simply and boldly shouted, “Christ.” 

Martin Luther was the author of this hymn which has been called the Battle Hymn of the Reformation.


There is only ONE mediator between God and man and that is Christ.  He is our prophet; He is our priest, and He is our King, and those offices cannot be assumed by or transferred to any other persons.

Solus Christus is the Latin phrase for BY CHRIST ALONE.   Our salvation is a free gift of God that was accomplished by the atoning work of CHRIST ALONE.

Martin Luther said, "I must listen to the Gospel.  It (is the Gospel that) tells me not what I must do, but what Jesus Christ the Son of God has done for me."

There can be no other mediators, no other sacrifices, and no other added works.  It is the sinless life and substitutionary atonement of CHRIST ALONE, that is complete and sufficient for our justification and reconciliation to the Father.

Dr. R. Scott Clark wrote, "The heart of the gospel is not about us. The heart of the gospel is Christ for us. This was the essence of Paul’s message: that Christ came for us, to do for us what we could not and would not do.  He obeyed.  He was crucified.  He was raised.  He is ascendedHe is returning.” 

The Reformation started because the medieval church had turned the gospel into a cooperative transaction of Christ’s grace mixed with our efforts.   But the good news is that we can do nothing to merit His grace.  We are the recipients. We’re beggars; we’re not contributors to the transaction.
John Calvin explained it this way, "Christ stepped in, took the punishment upon Himself and bore the judgment due to sinners.  With His own blood, He expiated the sins which made them enemies of God and thereby satisfied Him...we look to CHRIST ALONE for divine favour and fatherly love!   Hence Christ is called ‘King of peace’ (Is. 9:6) and ‘our peace’ (Eph 2:14) because He quiets all agitations of conscience.  If we ask the means, we must come to the (ONLY) sacrifice by which God has been appeased.  For anyone unconvinced that God is appeased by that one atonement in which CHRIST ALONE endured His wrath, will never cease to tremble.  In short, we must seek peace for ourselves solely in the anguish of Christ our Redeemer."

So, there is nothing else that can be added to our salvation.  Nothing else can be added to our standing before God. There is no merit in our good works that God should be satisfied.  Just Christ.  Only Christ.  Salvation is accomplished by CHRIST ALONE and He is worthy of all our praise. 


(Closing Hymn-)

Without Christ,- God's glory must be upheld by my eternal damnation.  It is impossible for Him to save me while neglecting the punishment of my sin.   

So, then, how can God be glorified and I be saved at the same time?

He is the sinless One who took my punishment.  He is the One who was crucified for my sins. 


Tuesday, October 3, 2017



If you ever sang in a church choir during the latter part of the 20th century, you are probably familiar with the works of John W. Peterson.

As the president of Singspiration Music Company, he compiled several hymnals, he composed the words and music for over 1,000 gospel songs, and he wrote over 30, easy to sing, Christmas and Easter cantatas.  

Of all John W. Peterson’s songs, O GLORIOUS LOVE is my favorite.  It is a simple worship song with a majestic feel that reminds us of God’s great love for us.  

In my darkness Jesus found me;
Touched my eyes and made me see;
Broke sin’s chains that long had bound me;
Gave me life and liberty!

Oh, glorious love of Christ my Lord divine,
That made Him stoop to save a soul like mine.
Through all my days, and then in heaven above,
My song will silence never, I'll worship Him forever,
And praise Him for His glorious love.

Oh, amazing truth to ponder;
He whom angel hosts attend,
Lord of Heaven, God’s Son, what wonder;
He became the sinner’s friend!

“…God commendeth His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Rom. 5:8

I am surprised that this song never really became popular.  Here it is recorded by John's grandson, Scott Strader.