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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Friday, March 18, 2016


Why Did I Pick THIS Song?

Admittedly, there are several songs that I avoid for use in our congregational singing because of the way they are often used to evoke emotional responses to over-simplified “easy-believism.”   I HAVE DECIDED TO FOLLOW JESUS is one of them.  

It has all the apparent elements of music that, according to some, would render it unfit or inappropriate for God-honoring and Christ-centered worship -- It uses too many first person pronouns; it is too simple and repetitive, and it contains no Scripture or substantive doctrinal truths.   Furthermore, it seems to present a man-initiated approach to salvation. In fact, it was popularized by the Billy Graham crusades and has become inseparable from its use in evangelistic altar calls.

But the story behind the song leads us to a completely different perspective.  It is not a statement about our part in choosing salvation.   It actually stands as a radical call to suffer and die with Jesus.

In the late 1800’s missionaries from many western nations saw an evangelistic explosion in northern India, which was in the grips of the most oppressive forms of Hinduism.  Violent and hostile reactions in the provinces resulted in scores of missionaries being martyred as well as many new converts being killed.  Nevertheless, the gospel made amazing inroads into this previously off-limits area.

In one particularly brutal village in the Indian province of Assam. A husband and wife, with their two children, professed faith in Christ and were baptized. Their village leaders decided to make an example out of the husband. They arrested the family and demanded that the father renounce Christ or see his wife and children murdered.

When he refused, his two children were executed by archers. They gave him another chance to recant.  Again he refused and his wife was also brutally murdered.   When he still refused to renounce his faith, he followed his family into glory.

So what does that story have to do with this song?

Well, witnesses later reported that when he was ordered to recant or his children would be killed, the man said: “I have decided to follow Jesus, and there is no turning back.”

And then after seeing his children murdered, he reportedly said, “The world can be behind me, but the cross is still before me.”  

Then, after watching his wife being pierced by the arrows, he said, “Though no one is here to go with me, still I will follow Jesus.”

As a result, a revival broke out, and those that had murdered the first converts came to faith themselves. The accounts of the martyred family were so astonishing and widely circulated that most Indian believers were familiar with it. The martyr’s last words were put to traditional Indian music and became one of the first, uniquely Indian hymns.

So, apart from its historical setting, the song can easily be mistakenly presumed to be about free will and our role in choosing salvation while minimizing the sovereign work of God in regeneration.  However, in this context, the word “decided” doesn’t have a minimalistic feel to it, but rather has a once-for-all commitment attached to it; a commitment that the author knew would lead to his imminent death.

On Oct 1, 2015, Christians were martyred on American soil.  We have all read or heard the accounts – how, one by one the victims were asked, “What is your religion?” and those who answered, “Christian” were executed.

God is still saving His people for His purpose, which is, ultimately, always for His glory. Choosing to follow Him is no frivolous or flippant thing.  This song of commitment reminds us that a decision to follow after Christ may come with a high cost, even if it means torture or physical death.

So, that’s why I picked this song.

1 I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
no turning back, no turning back.

2 Though none go with me, I still will follow;
though none go with me, I still will follow;
though none go with me, I still will follow;
no turning back, no turning back.

3 My cross I'll carry till I see Jesus;
my cross I'll carry till I see Jesus;
my cross I'll carry till I see Jesus;
no turning back, no turning back.

4 The world behind me, the cross before me;
the world behind me, the cross before me;
the world behind me, the cross before me;
no turning back, no turning back.

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