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, June 6, 2016


“…So shall My Word go forth out of My mouth: it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”  (Isaiah 55:11)

The story of Daniel Webster Whittle is legendary, although, some of it is disputed. Webster, who was named after the famous American politician, became a Major during the Civil War and he was a respected officer and a valiant warrior.   However, when he fell and lost the use of his right arm in battle, he ended up for the duration, in a prisoner-of-war hospital camp. 

To pass the time while he was recovering from his wounds in the hospital, he looked for something to read and found a New Testament.
He was fascinated with the Gospels and, every night in the prison camp, he could be found reading that borrowed copy of the New Testament.  Though the words in the Gospels had their appeal, Major Whittle remained resistant.
Late one night, a guard brought a hospital orderly, and they told him that a dying prisoner wanted someone to come and pray with him.  Whittle shook his head and said, “No, I’m not the one.”

But the men insisted.  They said, “We thought you were a Christian. We’ve seen you reading that Bible every night.”

Whittle felt some sense of compassion for the young dying soldier, so he agreed to go.   As I mentioned above, some of his story is open for debate, but, what took place that night in his encounter with a dying soldier, is indisputable: it was recorded in his journal:

“I dropped on my knees and held the boy’s hand in mine.  In a few broken words, I confessed my sins and asked Christ to forgive me. I believed right there that He did forgive me. I then prayed earnestly for the boy.  He became quiet and pressed my hand as I prayed and pleaded God’s promises [the promises I remembered from reading in the Gospels every night.].   When I arose from my knees, the boy took his last breath and died.  A look of peace had come over his troubled face, and I cannot but believe that God who used him to bring me to the Savior, used me to lead him to trust Christ’s precious blood and find pardon.  And I hope to meet that young man in heaven.”

After the war ended, Whittle worked as the treasurer of the Elgin Watch Company in Chicago, but less than ten years later, he left that vocation to enter into full-time evangelistic work, with Dwight D. Moody, where he worked alongside several musicians, including Phillip Bliss and James McGranahan. 
During those years of ministry, he wrote his own collection of over twenty hymns, including, "There Shall Be Showers of Blessings," and “Moment By Moment.”   His daughter, May Moody, also wrote the music for some of his lyrics.

Regarding his decision to devote his life to the Gospel, Whittle said, “While at work, I went into the vault and in the dead silence of the quietest of places I gave my life to my Heavenly Father to use as He would.”

Whittle’s story is a fascinating, real-life demonstration of God’s Sovereignty in His work of salvation.  The Apostle Paul alluded to that Sovereign power when He said, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it (the Gospel) is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek."  (Rom. 1:16)

And later, in his letter to the Church at Corinth, he said that “Christ had sent him to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.”  In other words, if it were possible for people to be saved by his clever speaking abilities, there would be no need of the Gospel.

We should expect nothing less today.   After all, God promised, in Isaiah 55, "So shall My Word go forth out of My mouth: it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it".

Did you catch that?  It is God’s Word that goes out into the world and it never fails to accomplish exactly what He intends.

Major Whittle wasn’t saved by human cleverness or manipulations.  He was just reading the very Words of God.  There was no evangelistic service, no preacher, no worship team, no altar call, and no invitation hymn. 

And that dying soldier was saved the same way; Whittle was at his side and, according to his journal, he was “praying and pleading God’s promises; the very promises that He had read in the Gospels.”

So the Word of God is true and faithful, “…So shall My Word go forth out of My mouth: it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”

Whittle and that young soldier were just two dying men who were saved by the power of God’s Gospel; by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone.

Major Daniel Webster Whittle’s testimony is evident in the words of his most recognized hymn, I KNOW WHOM I HAVE BELIEVED.  In four verses he admits his total ignorance and awe, of God’s amazing grace.  But then he answers all four verses with these assuring words from the Apostle Paul to Timothy, “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.”  


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