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 2, 2016


The opening lines of this song start with some very strange language; “I must needs go home.”

The phrase, must needs, is archaic; it dates back to Middle English texts in the 1500s.  And it was almost always used in its fuller form, which was, “needs must when the devil drives.” 

Shakespeare used it several times in His plays.  For example, in 1601 he wrote this dialogue in, All's Well That Ends Well:

The Countess (addressing the clown) said, “Tell me thy reason why thou wilt marry.”

The Clown answered, “My poor body, madam, requires it:  I am driven on by the flesh; and he must needs go that the devil drives.

In other words, to paraphrase it in modern language, “if the devil is driving you, you have no choice.”

By the 1900s, the phrase had been pared down to just two words, as it was used in this song.  But it is still archaic and strange sounding and has almost completely faded from popular use.

So, back to the text of our song, the two words, must and needs, combined together, form a strong, non-negotiable demand that cannot be any more emphatic; It is as if to say, “I need this, I must have it. There is no other option or choice.  If I don’t have this, I will die.”  

“THE WAY OF THE CROSS LEADS HOME,” was written by Jessie Pounds in 1906, and the tune was composed by Charles Gabriel who explained, later, that Mrs. Pound’s intention was to emphasize the truth, that authentic, heroic Christianity is NOT an easy road; it does not follow the path of least resistance.

The song exhorts us to follow the way of the cross that it might lead us home to heaven.

Image result for one way rhino
Stanza 1 starts with an authoritative warning - the way of the cross is the ONLY way to get to heaven.  Don’t miss it. We are told about two ways; a broad way and a narrow way, but Jesus clearly warns us,” NO man comes to the Father but by Me.” 

Stanza 2 declares that the way of the cross is the blood-sprinkled way; it is ONLY by the shed blood of Jesus that our sins can be forgiven, that we can be redeemed, and be reconciled with God.

Stanza 3 tells us that, to walk in the way of the cross means to bid farewell to the way of the world; Jesus calls us to take up our cross, to turn our backs on the world’s ways, and to be led by the Spirit rather than be drawn away by our own lusts.

Some have suggested that this hymn might have been inspired by this sermon illustration that was popular during those days:

The geographical heart of London is Charing Cross, which is referred to locally, simply as “the Cross”. A London police officer came upon a lost child who was unable to tell him where he lived. Finally, amid sobs and tears, the child simply said, “If you will take me to the Cross, I think I can find my way home from there.”


I must needs go home by the way of the cross,
There’s no other way but this;
I shall ne’er get sight of the Gates of Light,
If the way of the cross I miss.

The way of the cross leads home,
The way of the cross leads home;
It is sweet to know, as I onward go,
The way of the cross leads home.

I must needs go on in the blood-sprinkled way,
The path that the Savior trod,
If I ever climb to the heights sublime,
Where the soul is at home with God.

Then I bid farewell to the way of the world,
To walk in it never more;
For my Lord says, “Come,” and I seek my home,
Where He waits at the open door.


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