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 GAVE MY LIFE FOR THEE is one of those songs that I generally try to avoid, not because of bad theology, but because, in casual singing or even a superficial reading, it could mistakenly convey the idea that some kind of reciprocal action or work on our part is required to earn our salvation.  Of course, there is nothing we can do to earn or buy our salvation. 

This hymn, written by Frances Havergal in 1858, asks four thought-provoking and pertinent questions that should cause us to consider our commitment to Christ and we should read them as if they were being asked by Jesus, Himself.

The questions center around four action verbs – Give, Leave, Bear, and Bring.  The interesting thing about these four questions is that we can find instructive examples in Scripture as to how we should respond.

In Luke 6:38, Jesus said,“…GIVE, and it will be given to you. Good measure pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”  So how should we give?  The same way God has given to us - freely, abundantly, and running over. 

In John 8:11, Jesus told the women caught in adultery, “Go now and LEAVE your life of sin.”  The commandment He gave her is the same one He gives to each one of us.  When we were born again, we became new creations.  Old things are passed away.  We may not have committed the same sins that she did, but we are all expected to leave our old lives of sin.   

Col. 3:13 says, “BEAR with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.   Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”    How should we put up with people who are really annoying or even hurtful?  Paul’s instructions here are not recommendations, but commands to bear with each other and forgive one another because, after all, Christ forgave us.

There is a strange passage in chapter 1 of Malachi.  God says, “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you, and I will accept no offering from your hands.” 

A little further in that chapter, God asks a hard question, “When you BRING injured, crippled, or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?”  These are convicting verses even today.   I know I am guilty.  I have brought Him offerings of time, and talents, and worship, and praise, that were less than my best and in this passage He is saying, “I am not pleased.”

So this song doesn’t really suggest any obligatory compulsion to try to earn God’s favor. That would be an insult to God.  We are saved by grace through faith.   Grace that is earned is NOT grace.

Instead, our reactions should be willful, loving responses to His grace that come from grateful hearts because of all that He has done. 

I gave My life for thee,
My precious blood I shed,
That thou might'st ransomed be,
And quickened from the dead;
I gave, I gave My life for thee,
What hast thou giv'n for Me?
I gave, I gave My life for thee,
What hast thou giv'n for Me?

My Father's house of light,
My glory circled throne,
I left for earthly night,
For wanderings sad and lone;
I left, I left it all for thee,
Hast thou left aught for Me?
I left, I left it all for thee,
Hast thou left aught for Me?

I suffered much for thee,
More than thy tongue can tell,
Of bitt'rest agony,
To rescue thee from hell;
I've borne, I've borne it all for thee,
What hast thou borne for Me?
I've borne, I've borne it all for thee,
What hast thou borne for Me?

And I have brought to thee,
Down from My home above,
Salvation full and free,
My pardon and My love;
I bring, I bring rich gifts to thee,
What hast thou brought to Me?
I bring, I bring rich gifts to thee,
What hast thou brought to Me?

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