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, May 16, 2016


Philip Paul Bliss, was a well-known teacher, evangelist, and soloist. During his short lifetime of only 38 years, he wrote many hymns among which are “Hallelujah! What a Savior,” “Let the Lower Lights Be Burning,” and “Jesus Loves Even Me.”  And he wrote music scores for several hymns including, “It Is Well with My Soul.”  

Philip traveled frequently with his wife, Lucy, and their children, to assist with music in evangelistic services.  One day, they attended a revival service. The song leader was absent and so the music was weak but Philips’ superb singing voice stood out in the congregational singing.   At the end of the meeting, the evangelist made his way to meet the Bliss family.  That was the beginning of his association with Dwight L. Moody. According to Philip, within about two minutes, Moody had his testimony, his history, and his promise to assist with song leading in future tabernacle services.  

In 1876, shortly after Christmas, Philip received a telegram from Moody, asking him to come to another crusade.   This time, he and his wife left the children with their grandparents and made the trip.   On the last evening of that crusade, Philip Bliss spoke these words in a brief, closing message to the congregation: “I may not pass this way again.”  Then he ended the service with a solo, “I’m Going Home Tomorrow.”   Those words and that song would prove to be prophetic.

The next evening, they began their return trip home.  About 7 p.m. on December 29, 1876, their train was crossing a trestle when the bridge collapsed and eleven rail cars plunged seventy feet down into a cold, icy river at the bottom of the ravine.  Even before all the cars hit the bottom, they were already engulfed in flames set on fire by the kerosene heaters.

Philip escaped the burning car through a window but then, realizing that his wife was still trapped and, against the urgings of others, went back in to find her.  According to witnesses, he said: “If I cannot save her, I will perish with her.”  Their bodies were never found.  Of the 159 passengers, 92 were killed and most of the survivors were seriously injured.

The Bliss’ luggage was recovered from the wreckage and with it was the handwritten, unpublished lyrics to his newest song, I WILL SING OF MY REDEEMER.  Within a few months, the hymn was set to music by composer and evangelist, James McGranahan. That same year, singer and musician George Cole Stebbins made a recording which was one of the first songs ever to be recorded on Thomas Edison’s new invention, the phonograph.

About Philip Bliss, D. L, Moody said, "In my estimate, he was the most highly honored of God, of any man of his time, as a writer and singer of Gospel Songs, and with all his gifts he was the most humble man I ever knew. I loved him as a brother, and shall cherish his memory...."

This hymn is a simple but precise expression the truth of the Gospel;

Sing, O sing of my Redeemer.
With His blood, He purchased me.
On the Cross, He sealed my pardon,
Paid the debt and made me free.


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