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, April 12, 2016


Holiday times are always hard days for caregivers as, typically, the death rates in elder care facilities rise significantly following Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

In my fifteenth year at the Christian home for the elderly, we lost one of our favorite residents on Thanksgiving Day.  She had gone out with her daughters for a family Thanksgiving dinner.  Late in the afternoon she began to feel nauseous and complained of stomach and back pains. They took her to the emergency room at the hospital where she was diagnosed with flu symptoms and discharged back to our care by early evening.  

My staff monitored her every thirty minutes through the evening.  About 12:45 AM they found her unresponsive and called 911.  By the time I arrived the paramedics had already pronounced her "dead on arrival." I called her pastor and the two of us spent the next few hours comforting and praying with her daughter until the funeral home representatives arrived to remove her mother.

Our resident pastor and I kept very busy conducting about 30-40 funerals a year. We once had seven services in one week.

As emotionally difficult as those times were, I am aware that many others have endured far more difficulty and loss and suffering than I have ever experienced. 

Martin Rinkart was a provincial clergyman in Germany in the early 17th century.

At the age of thirty-one, he was assigned the office of archdeacon at his native town of Eilenburg in Saxony just about the time the Thirty Years War broke out.  And he died just after the end of the war. 

Throughout those thirty-one years, he stood faithfully by his flock and helped them under every kind of distress.   He endured the forced quartering of soldiers in his own house and the frequent plundering of what little stock of grain and household goods he had.  But those were just the small things.

The plague of 1637 was extraordinarily severe; the town was overcrowded with refugees from the districts where the Swedes had been spreading their devastation, and that year, 8,000 townspeople died.   Nearly all the town council, a large number of school children, and the clergymen of the neighboring parish were all carried off as prisoners of war.  Rinkart was left alone to do the pastoral work of three men, and most of his time was spent at the bedsides of the sick and dying.  In that one year alone, He buried over 4,000 of his parishioners. 

The pestilence was followed by a famine so extreme that frequently, 30-40 people could often be seen fighting in the streets for a dead cat or crow.  

Rinckart, with the help of the burgomaster and one other citizen, did what they could do to organize assistance to provide for the needs of the people, and he, personally, gave away everything but the barest of rations for his own family.

And after all that suffering, the Swedes came, again, this time, to impose a tax, equivalent to about $ 30,000, on the devastated townspeople.  Rinkart visited the enemy camp to beg the general for mercy.  When he was refused, it was recorded that he turned to the citizens who followed him, and said, "Come, my children, we can find no hearing, no mercy with men, let us take refuge with God."

At that point, He fell on his knees and prayed with such touching fervor that the Swedish general relented, and lowered his demand to just a few dollars.

Rinkart's own losses were so great that he had difficulty finding bread and clothing for his children, and was forced to mortgage his future income for several years.

Yet his spirit was never broken.  In the middle of that terrible time of calamities and incredible losses, he wrote a table grace for his children that has come to be one of our most loved Thanksgiving hymns:


1. Now thank we all our God,
With heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done,
In whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers' arms
Has blessed us on our way,
With countless gifts of love,
And still is ours today.

2. O may this bounteous God
Through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts
And blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us still in grace,
And guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills,
In this world and the next.

3. All praise and thanks to God
The Father now be given;
The Son, and Him who reigns
With them in highest heaven;
The One Eternal God,
Whom earth and heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now,
And shall be evermore.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for that very interesting history of this song.