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


There are a few songs, in our hymnbooks, that I use with caution, not necessarily because they are wrong, but because they can be confusing.  And so, when I select them, I want to be careful to present the message of the songs accurately and in a biblically sound context. 

WHEN WE ALL GET TO HEAVEN, is one of those.  It is listed among the best-loved favorites of all time.  And it’s a great hymn of faith for today, of encouragement through our trials, and the assurance of our hope for eternity.   So, what is the problem?  Well, I’m glad you asked. 

A recent Pew Research survey revealed that 70% of Americans who claim a “religious” affiliation say there are many paths that lead to heaven and one is no different or more special than another.

That is astounding, especially when we understand that the majority of the sample is comprised of those who claim to be Christians.  It is not uncommon, especially at funerals, to hear so many people casually say, about those who have passed away, “Well, he’s in a much better place now.”

I don’t want to be vague about that in the songs we sing.  And that is why I want to be careful about this song.  The problem is the word, ALL.  I don’t want that inclusive generalization to go without putting the word in its proper context.  In this song, All is limited by the word WE (when WE all).  And the word, WE, is identified in the text, as those of us who are True and Faithful; those of us who, by God’s saving grace, have placed our faith and trust in Jesus, and have experienced His mercy.

Consider these words from Jesus.     
“Enter through the narrow gate,” Jesus said. “for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter trough it. For the gate is small and THE WAY IS NARROW that leads to life, and there are FEW who find it.” Matthew 7:13-14.

So there it is—most people are on a wide, broad highway that leads to destruction.  But ALL those who are on the narrow way will find life.      

Most people want to be found in favor with God.  They want to believe that they are all right and that they are going to heaven when they die.  And they strive for it through their own good works and rituals.   But Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, NO ONE comes to the Father except through me.”   John 14:6.

The message of the Gospel is that we are ALL sinners and can never do enough good to satisfy God.  The only way of salvation is by faith alone, in Jesus Christ who shed His own blood to redeem us. 

And only then, can we sing with full assurance, “WHEN WE ALL GET TO HEAVEN, what a day of rejoicing that will be.”   

Sing the wondrous love of Jesus,
Sing His mercy and His grace.
In the mansions bright and bless├Ęd
He’ll prepare for us a place.

While we walk the pilgrim pathway,
Clouds will overspread the sky;
But when traveling days are over,
Not a shadow, not a sigh.

Let us then be true and faithful,
Trusting, serving every day;
Just one glimpse of Him in glory
Will, the toils of life, repay.

Onward to the prize before us!
Soon His beauty we’ll behold;
Soon the pearly gates will open;
We shall tread the streets of gold.
 When we all get to Heaven,
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
We’ll sing and shout the victory!

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