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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Tuesday, March 22, 2016


I have encountered several instances, lately, where some have criticized people for the sin of bibliolatry; or the heresy of worshiping the Bible. Typically, the accusation of bibliolatry is used as an inflammatory, derogatory, and ignorant attack on those who hold to the inerrancy, infallibility, and supremacy of Scripture.

The accusation, of bibliolatry, is that some Christians elevate the written Word to the point that it is equal with God, or to the point that studying the Bible is more important than developing a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.

last week we looked at the hymn, “O Word of God Incarnate,” which accurately identifies the written Word and the incarnate Word, as "The Word of GOD.   In other words, the Bible is the Word of God and Jesus Is the Word of God.  And, if you recall, in that commentary, I suggested that if you want to hear a Word from God, you should read the Bible.  Well, if you want to truly know Christ; if you want to really have a personal and intimate relationship with Him, then you must have an intimate knowledge of His Word.

This hymn, HOLY BIBLE, BOOK DIVINE, is about the Bible; the written Word of God.  It was written by John Burton but the story behind the song is a fascinating account of the beginnings of the modern Sunday School movement that was founded by Robert Raikes.  

He was a layman who had a heart for the poor, ragged children of the slums in England. There were no state schools, then, and most of the street children were illiterate.   Mr. Raikes believed that a good education would give children a much better start in life, so he started a school in 1780 in the kitchen of a home, in Gloucester.  

At first, it was for boys only, but soon girls came too. Since most of the children worked in the factories six days a week, Raikes decided to hold his school on Sundays. The Bible was used as the textbook, and church attendance was part of the Sunday program.

Robert Raikes had a lot of critical detractors, who accused him of violating the Lord’s Day when they thought Christians shouldn’t be working.  But John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, supported the movement and it continued to grow. Schools were springing up all over the country and within four years, there were 250,000 pupils. By 1831, there were 1,250,000 attending Sunday Schools (about a quarter of the population of Great Britain at that time).

John Burton, the author of this song, was one of the Sunday School teachers. He wrote and published songs for use, in the Sunday Schools, as teaching aids. Committing songs, such as this one, to memory enabled illiterate children to gain their first understanding of eternal truths.

This great hymn was one of those teaching aids.  In it, the children learned that The Bible teaches us where we came from, that we are a creation of God, and that we are the crown of His creation.  They learned that through God’s Word we are convicted of sin and chastised by a loving God when it is needed.  Not only does the Word of God guide and guard us through life, it provides “comfort in distress”, and shows us the way to gain eternal life.  And it reveals the final destiny of lost sinners and the eternal joys of the saints.


Holy Bible, Book Divine,
Precious treasure, thou art mine;
Mine to tell me whence I came;
Mine to teach me what I am.

Mine to chide me when I rove;
Mine to show a Savior’s love;
Mine thou art to guide and guard;
Mine to punish or reward.

Mine to comfort in distress;
Suffering in this wilderness;
Mine to show, by living faith,
Man can triumph over death.

Mine to tell of joys to come,
And the rebel sinner’s doom;
O thou Holy Book divine,
Precious treasure, thou art mine.

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