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

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Saturday, March 19, 2016


Each week it is my privilege to select the hymns and choruses for my church’s worship services.

I am nearly 70 years old.  I have attended church almost every Sunday of my life since before I can remember.  I grew up with and have spent most of my life involved in church music.  My mother told me that she used to prop me up in an improvised baby seat on the front pew every Wednesday evening while she was in choir practice.  I have sung duets many times, with my sister, when were young children.  I have spent many years singing in church choirs, singing solos, duets, and in small ensembles. 

Now all of this is not intended to boast; it is simply to make this point; in all those years, I have learned and loved many hymns and songs.  But somehow, I have missed this truly great, hidden treasure of Christian hymnody.  I had never heard this song until I selected it for our congregational singing about six years ago.

I don’t know why it has remained so obscure for 280 years.  It is a great hymn of faith that focuses on the person and work of Jesus Christ.  In many ways, this hymn parallels another great hymn that is one of my favorites – “My Faith Has Found A Resting Place.”  

In my opinion, this unfamiliar hymn should be known well and used often in Christian worship.  Besides having excellent lyrics, it is easy to sing and it shares a very familiar tune that we all recognize as, “Take My Life And Let It Be Consecrated.”

The hymn, written by Johann Schwedler, was inspired by two Bible texts.  “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2)  and “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14).

The title of the hymn is in the form of a question; ASK YE WHAT GREAT THING I KNOW?  Originally it had six stanzas but most hymnbook today (those that contain the song) only provide verses 1,4,5, and 6.

The first five stanzas ask questions that are all emphatically answered by a common refrain, “Jesus Christ, the crucified.”

Stanza 1 inquires, who is the greatest, the highest, and the most glorious?

The questions in stanza 2 inquire about the very nature of Christ, the One who is omnipotent, all compassionate, the Mighty Warrior and protector, the God of all comfort, and the God of revival.

One of the two stanzas, that are not included in the hymnals, gets right down to the fundamental question of the very foundation of our faith.  These are great questions and I wish the editors had not omitted this stanza:

     What is faith’s foundation strong?
         What awakes my heart to song?
     He who bore my sinful load,
         Purchased, for me, peace with God;
     Jesus Christ, the crucified.

There is a remarkable scene in the 1953 movie, Martin Luther.  As a young priest, Luther began to question many of the errant beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church.  He was deemed a troublemaker and an heretic, and was in danger of excommunication (if not execution). In the scene, one of Luther’s superiors confronted him and demanded, “If we removed all of these rituals and relics as you say, what would you suggest we replace them with?”

Luther’s short answer was direct and powerful and very much like the common answer to all these questions in this hymn.  He simply and boldly answered, “Christ.”

Unlike the other verses, the last stanza doesn’t ask any questions.  Instead, it simply makes this very clear and powerful affirmation of faith;

     THIS is that great thing I know;                 
         THIS delights and stirs me so:
     Faith in Him who died to save,
        Him who triumphed o’er the grave:


Ask ye what great thing I know,
That delights and stirs me so?
What the high reward I win?
Whose, the Name I glory in?
Jesus Christ, the Crucified.

What is faith’s foundation strong?
What awakes my heart to song?
He Who bore my sinful load,
Purchased for me peace with God,
Jesus Christ, the Crucified.

Who is He that makes me wise
To discern where duty lies?
Who is He that makes me true
Duty, when discerned to do,
Jesus Christ, the Crucified.

Who defeats my fiercest foes?
Who consoles my saddest woes?
Who revives my fainting heart,
Healing all its hidden smart?
Jesus Christ, the Crucified.

Who is life in life to me?
Who the death of death will be?
Who will place me on His right,
With the countless hosts of light?
Jesus Christ, the Crucified.

This is that great thing I know;
This delights and stirs me so;
Faith in Him Who died to save,
Him Who triumphed over the grave:
Jesus Christ, the Crucified.

(If you are in any position to select music for your congregational worship, this is a good one to introduce and teach to them.  If not, I would still recommend that you read it, sing it, teach it to your children, and use in your private worship and devotions.)  

Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.  Col. 3:16


  1. What tune do you use to sing this hymn to? We sing it to Take My Life. So many wonderful hymns out there that have been forgotten. The old hymns were so deep theologically, it is truly sad they have been left behind. Plus people do not have the patience to sing more than 3 verses.

  2. Scott, that is the same melody as Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated.