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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Monday, March 21, 2016

About Those Wretches and Worms

Whatever happened to old Ebenezer?

I’m not talking about Ebenezer Scrooge; I’m talking about that Ebenezer in the hymn, COME THOU FOUNT OF EVERY BLESSING. ” Do you remember the second verse? Here’s the way I remember it:

Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

But here’s the way it appears now in our new hymn book:

Hither to thy love has blessed me
Thou has brought me to this place
And I know thy hand will bring me
Safely home by Thy good grace.

So what is an Ebenezer anyway? In 1 Samuel 7:12 we read, “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and named it Ebenezer; for he said, "Thus far the LORD has helped us."

Ebenezer is a word that derives from two Hebrew words which literally translate to a "stone of help."  The stone was placed as a memorial to remind them of God's help.  An Ebenezer can be nearly any symbol that reminds us of God’s presence and help: the Bible, the elements of communion, a cross, a picture, a hymn – those things which serve as reminders of God’s love for us, His presence in our lives, and His assistance are "Ebenezers."

What was wrong with the song the way it was written? I guess some revisions are good but the words in this new version don’t even mean the same thing.

There are a couple other revised hymns, though, that really push me over the edge. One of them is Amazing Grace. Of all the hymns, this is probably the most popular and acceptable to the world, mainly because there is not one single reference to God or Jesus in the first verse so it is pretty generic.  But there is one glaring problem.  It’s the word “wretch.”  The author, John Newton, might have been a wretch but today we don’t like to damage our fragile self-esteems. It’s a good thing we have these new words that make this great song more palatable to our narcissistic generation:

"AMAZING GRACE how sweet the sound that saved and set me free.”
There, that sounds much nicer.

And then there are these great words by Isaac Watts in the hymn, AT THE CROSS.

Alas, and did my Savior bleed,
And did my Sov'reign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?

But in our new hymn book the last line has been changed to, “For such a one as I.”


The old hymn writers knew and wrote great lyrics.  Unless they are doctrinally unsound or, because of language translations, are metrically difficult for musical purposes, we should leave them alone.  Doctrine should not be submissive to the pressures of political correctness.  God isn’t impressed with our self-esteem and I really don’t think He cares much about our sensitive feelings.

We are NOT basically good and there is nothing about us that should merit God’s favor.  In fact, in His Word, He tells us just how bad we really are. It is only when we understand that we are dirty, rotten, low-life scumbags, that we have no hope except to beg for God’s mercy and then we can appreciate His grace.

So I say, leave the words alone.  Wretches and Worms are right and fitting descriptors for us in our fallen, natural condition.

But if you don’t like them and you want a nicer song for your worship, you could always sing the Barney Song;
“I love you, You love me.
We’re as happy as can be.”

 That should make you feel really great and, by the way, good luck with that one.

1 comment:

  1. I really hate it when the powers that be change the lyrics of old hymns to make them more palatable or because they think people won't understand them (perhaps they should try footnotes to explain words like "Ebenezer"