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


O WORD OF GOD INCARNATE was written by William How in 1867.  It is a rich meditation that reflects a very high view of Scripture and uses several unusual, or unique, metaphors for various aspects of the Word of God.

The first verse begins with a reference to one of the most important passages in Scripture; the opening verses of John's Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And then in verse 14, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us…”  and, of course, we know that is a reference to the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ.

There are other passages in the Old Testament that allude to the personification of the Word (Proverbs 8, for example) where wisdom is personified.

When God reveals Himself to us, He does it principally in His Son and He does it with words.   Everything that we can know about Him is revealed in scripture.   And that’s ALL we can know.  Anything about Him that is not revealed in scripture, we cannot know.

Now if you have been paying attention to current events, lately, you are aware of the rapidly declining moral condition of our culture.   And you have probably heard many misguided attempts, by nominal Christians and liberal churches, to legitimize and accept all kinds of immoral behavior in the name of tolerance and Christian love.  And, furthermore, they defend their tolerance by implying that “Jesus never actually said anything about it so it is okay.”

Well, it’s NOT okay because it is just not true.  One of the reasons I don’t use a red-letter edition of the Bible is because ALL SCRIPTURE IS GOD BREATHED.  And that’s the point.  Jesus and Scripture are in total agreement.  There is never any contradiction.  We can’t form our theology on just a few selected red words.

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

So there is an inseverable relationship between Jesus and Scripture. Jesus is the Word, and Scripture is the Word.  Someone has said, “If you want to hear from God, read your Bible; if you want to hear Him speak to you audibly, read it out loud.” 

Now, look at the last verse.

“O make Thy church, dear Savior,
A lamp of purest gold,
To bear before the nations,
Thy true Light, as of old.”

This prayer is a call for the Church to uphold, preach, and proclaim the written Word of God, which is the Bible.    When we read Scripture, we are reading His Words.  And when we preach His Word, we preach Christ.


O Word of God incarnate,
O Wisdom from on high,
O Truth unchanged, unchanging,
O Light of our dark sky:
we praise you for the radiance
that from the hallowed page,
a lantern to our footsteps,
shines on from age to age.

The Church from you, our Savior,
received the gift divine,
and still that Light is lifted
o'er all the earth to shine.
It is the sacred vessel
where gems of truth are stored;
it is the heaven-drawn picture
of Christ, the living Word.

The Scripture is a banner
before God's host unfurled;
it is a shining beacon
above the darkling world.
It is the chart and compass
that o'er life's surging tide,
mid mists and rocks and quicksands,
to you, O Christ, will guide.

O make your Church, dear Savior,
a lamp of purest gold,
to bear before the nations
your true Light as of old.
O teach your wandering pilgrims
by this their path to trace,
till clouds and darkness ended,
they see you face to face.


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