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 23, 2016


There aren’t very many good hymns about the Holy Spirit and His work in our lives but SPIRIT OF GOD, DESCEND UPON MY HEART is one that is both doctrinally correct and really rich in good theology.  It was written by George Croly, a pastor in London, in the 1800s.

I think the key thought throughout this prayer, is “We are weak but God is Strong.”

He begins this prayer, with a recognition of his need (which is what we all need).  God commands us to “Be filled with the Spirit.”  But our problem is our flesh.  We were born in this world and we live in this world.  It’ all we know and we love it.  But it is temporal; it’s all going to burn. We need to be weaned from the natural world and drawn close to Him.  But we are weak and unable to love God.  We need the power of the Spirit to “descend on us and to make us love Him.”   If God doesn’t make us love Him, we will not love Him.

The second verse does not appear in many of our contemporary hymnbooks, probably because of errant teachings that began in the Pentecostal denominations in the 1920s.  That’s unfortunate because the implications, of this verse, are important:

I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies;
No sudden rending of the veil of clay,
No angel visitant, no opening skies;
But take the dimness of my soul away.

It’s a natural human desire to experience God and see Him work in spectacular ways. But that is not the norm.    The hymn writer doesn’t ask for any special signs. 
 Throughout their history, the Jews demanded signs and wonders.  But in these days, God HAS revealed Himself.  The Word of God became flesh, and now, we don’t need signs and wonders.  Jesus said, “It is a weak and adulterous generation that seeks after a sign.”  

God is real and His Spirit indwells His people.  Our problem is that our souls have been darkened by sin and so our faith is clouded.  So Croly prays: “Take the dimness of my soul away.”

The next verse summarizes another command and exposes our weakness. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”  We all fail that commandment; we are unable to keep God’s commandments.  That makes us all guilty sinners, deserving of death. 

But the author points to our hope; “I see Thy cross there, teach my heart to cling.”   

The cross is not just the beginning of our salvation.  It’s always at the forefront of our new lives.  It was the blood of Jesus that saved us and atoned for our sin.  It’s His cross that we cling to; It was His shed blood and the sacrifice of His body that Jesus commanded us to remember whenever we gather together.  We cannot save ourselves. “Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission for sin.”

The verse continues, "O, let me seek Thee and, O, let me find."  That phrase seems contradictory to the modern philosophy of the seeker-sensitive church growth culture today, but according to Scripture, the natural man is hostile to God and does not seek Him.  If God does not seek and save those who are lost; if He does not reveal Himself, we have no power to find Christ.

It’s normal for us to go through times when we feel that God isn’t near.   Sometimes it’s because of doubt which is a weakness of faith.  Other times it is just rebelliousness.  In verse four, the songwriter uses a strange little phrase; "The rebel sigh."  Anyone who has had children has heard it.   You all know what it is:  When Dad or Mom gives an order, the children might obey, but they often do it reluctantly with a rebellious attitude.  And sometimes they do it with a noticeable look of scorn that is often followed by an audible, heavy, disgusted sigh.  That’s the rebel sigh.   We hate that when our children do that but we are all guilty; we do that to God.  Instead of obeying Him cheerfully, we do it with "the rebel sigh." So Croly prays, "Holy Spirit, teach me to check that “rebel sigh."

Finally, in verse five, he writes, "Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love, one holy passion filling all my frame."

Do we love God the way His angels love Him?  They are completely dedicated to Him; They obey Him with total submission and they surround Him with adoration.  And that, by the way, is what true worship looks like. So George Croly ends this amazing prayer with a request; that the Spirit of God would descend on him, fill him with a holy passion, and consume him with a burning love for the Lord.


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