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, April 18, 2016

*MY SAVIOR FIRST OF ALL (A Tribute to the Music and Faith of FANNY CROSBY)

(This past Sunday I detoured from my normal routine of featuring one song.  Instead, I featured the testimony of the great faith of a prolific hymn writer.  All of the songs in our service, Sunday, were written by Fanny Crosby.)  

"He Hideth My Soul”

In Exod. 33, the LORD said, “Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock.  So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by.  Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.’”

That was God’s response to Moses who asked, “Lord, Please, show me Your glory.”  The opening stanza alludes to that incident where God was willing to show Himself in the form of a Man, but only in a carefully veiled way because “…no man can look on His face and live.”

It seems noteworthy, to me, that the hymn writer, by the providence of a loving God, was afflicted with total blindness.  Yet she had an amazing ability to see the glory of the Lord through the eyes of faith.


“I Am Thine, O Lord”

Fanny Crosby was only six weeks old when she developed an infection in her eyes.  Her family’s doctor was out of town, so her parents took her to a quack who was pretending to be a doctor.   He covered her eyes with a mustard paste.  Her parents began to question the wisdom of his methods as she was screaming with pain. 

Nevertheless, he insisted that the ointment should be left on her eyes for a full day in order to kill the infection.  When it was finally removed, the damage had been done and Fanny spent her entire life in the dark.

In one of her songs, she wrote, “I Am Thine, O Lord, I have heard Thy voice, and it told Thy love to me.  But I long to rise in the arms of faith and be closer drawn to Thee.”

With those very personal words, we get a glimpse into the faith and trust of a woman who was totally dependent on her Lord.


“My Savior First Of All”

I wonder how many of us would be contented and satisfied with God’s grace through tragic circumstances?  The Providence of God is an attribute that seems to have been lost in recent generations.  It is the understanding that God is not passively observing from afar; He is active over ALL things in His creation.  He does ALL things for His glory. 

In her autobiography, Fanny wrote; “It seemed intended by the blessed Providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank Him for the dispensation.  If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow I would not accept it,” she said, “I might not have written and sung thousands of hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me."

One signature feature that is very noticeable, in many of her songs, is how many allusions she makes to that day when she will finally see her Savior face to face.  

And that is evident in these great lyrics, “When my life-work is ended and I cross the swelling tide, when the bright and glorious morning I shall see; I shall know my Redeemer when I reach the other side, and His smile will be the first to welcome me.”


“Blessed Assurance”

Assurance and faith are like two sides of the same coin.  Assurance means full confidence, free from doubt and fear.

On the other side, Faith is an action; we put our trust in something or someone.  And when we put our trust in God, His Spirit brings assurance that our trust is well founded on something that will not fail.

When we fully surrender to Christ in faith, we have full assurance.  And this is how we can have both a testimony (“this is my story”) and a song (“praising my Savior”).   We can be “certain”, of a hope for our future as we continue “watching and waiting, looking above.”        

"Close To Thee”

Fanny Crosby wrote nearly 9000 songs.  She is widely regarded as “the most prolific and significant writer of gospel songs in American History.” 
In her book “Memories of Eighty Years,” Fanny Crosby wrote: “Toward the close of a day in the year 1874, I was sitting in my room thinking of the nearness of God through Christ as the constant companion of my pilgrim journey, when my heart burst out with these words, ”Close to Thee, close to Thee.  All along my pilgrim journey, Savior, let me walk with Thee.”

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