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, within those parameters, I try to select music that will reinforce and support the text and the 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 few 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 these commentaries 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.

A complete list of hymns is located on the right side panel.

Ralph M. Petersen

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Sunday, July 10, 2016


In one of his books, a very popular, contemporary pastor and book writer presented this anemic and oversimplified version of the gospel:
“First, believe that God loves you and has a purpose for your life.
Second, receive Jesus into your life as your savior.”

That was it!  Where, in that, is there any realization or threat of BAD NEWS?

By contrast, a more responsible and biblical proclamation of the Good News would carefully explain the facts of God’s requirement for absolute perfection.  It would describe our sinful condition and total inability to merit His mercy.  It would warn of His righteous judgment and the prospect of eternal torment and punishment in hell.  A message like that is Bad News but it is the truth.  But then, the proclamation would go on to present the Good News of Salvation; that Jesus suffered the wrath of God and died a horrible death for us.  And, according to Scripture, whoever trusts in Him shall be saved.

You see, the good news is only GOOD NEWS when we know the BAD NEWS.

The hymn, LO, HE COMES WITH CLOUDS DESCENDING, has both Good news and Bad news.  The good news is that Jesus is coming again.  The bad news is that Jesus is coming again.

The song’s theme comes from Revelation 1:7, “Behold, He comes with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also who pierced Him: and all tribes of the earth shall wail because of Him. Even so, Amen.”

I hope you don’t miss that.  Every eye shall see Him; not just those who are looking for Him, but those who hate Him as well.  So on that Day, there will be great rejoicing and there will also be great wailing.

The song begins and ends with a joyful exhortation to look to the coming King, Jesus Christ, and celebrate His glorious reign over all things in heaven and earth.

So what will life be like under His rule?   The Bible tells us that He is to be a just and righteous ruler.   The implication is that all injustice and wickedness will be judged.   God is everywhere and He knows everything.  And He will open and expose every deep, dark secret in the hearts of all men. 

I have mentioned before, that most modern hymnbooks have been edited so that there are very few hymns that address the judgment and wrath of God.   This hymn is one of those that has been edited and I think that is unfortunate.  We live in an age where people want to be shielded in safe spaces away from any kind of bad news.   So for our singing today, I have inserted one of the three missing stanzas back into the hymn.  Listen to these sobering words:
Every island, sea, and mountain,
Heav’n and earth shall flee away;
All who hate Him must, confounded, 
Hear the trump proclaim the day:
“Come to judgment! Come to judgment! 
Come to judgment! Come away!”

Those are terrifying words. I know they sound harsh and insensitive to our modern culture where non-judgmental tolerance is considered a virtue.  But if God is just and righteous (and He Is), He must punish all that is unjust and evil.  There can be no new heaven and new earth unless the old is destroyed.  

The centerpiece of this hymn is the Good News of the Gospel.  For those who are redeemed, God’s justice has been fully satisfied in the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ.

So the fact that God is Just and Righteous is really bad news for the wicked but it is Good news for the righteous who are, “looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour, Jesus Christ.”  Titus 2:13

(With all seven stanzas.  Sung to the tune of “Angels from the Realms of Glory”)

Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending,
Swell the triumph of His train:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
God appears on earth to reign.

Every eye shall now behold Him
Robed in dreadful majesty;
Those who set at naught and sold Him,
Pierced and nailed Him to the tree,
Deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
Shall the true Messiah see.

Every island, sea, and mountain,
Heav’n and earth shall flee away;
All who hate Him must, confounded,
Hear the trump proclaim the day:
Come to judgment! Come to judgment!
Come to judgment! Come away!

Now redemption, long expected,
See in solemn pomp appear;
All His saints, by man, rejected,
Now shall meet Him in the air:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
See the day of God appear!

Answer Thine own bride and Spirit,
Hasten, Lord, the general doom!
The new Heav’n and earth t’inherit,
Take Thy pining exiles home:
All creation, all creation,
Travails! groans! and bids Thee come!

The dear tokens of His passion
Still His dazzling body bears;
Cause of endless exultation
To His ransomed worshippers;
With what rapture, with what rapture,
Gaze we on those glorious scars!

Yea, Amen! let all adore Thee,
High on Thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory,
Claim the kingdom for Thine own;
O come quickly! O come quickly!
Everlasting God, come down!


Monday, July 4, 2016


Tomorrow is Independence Day so there will be a patriotic theme in some of our music this morning. 

I am somewhat concerned about all that; I know the inherent dangers and how easily our worship can become misguided and profane so I want to preface our service with a few thoughts.

First, I am a patriot of the United States republic as our founders established it and codified it in our constitution.  And I believe most of you are too.  So tomorrow, I will reflect on the greatness of this country.  I will give thanks for those who have sacrificed their lives to secure our liberties.  I will praise God for His providential guidance in its formation and I will enjoy the celebrations of our national heritage.  I may even eat a chili cheese dog or two, scarf down some watermelon, and fire off a couple dozen rounds of blanks from my .22 revolver.  That will be appropriate for the national holiday that we will celebrate tomorrow.

As for today, it is incumbent on us to remember that the purpose of our gathering together as the church of God is to honor and celebrate and worship Jesus Christ.   So I want to put our love for our country in a proper context.
There are many revisionist historians today, who would argue that our founding fathers were not all Christians and even if they were, it was never their intention to recognize God’s sovereignty and providence in our nation’s formation, much less establish it on biblical principles.  But they would be wrong.  Listen to the words of some of our founders:

Benjamin Franklin, “I have lived, my friends, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing the proofs I see of the truth…that God governs in the affairs of men.  And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?”

Patrick Henry, “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionist, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ!  For this very reason, peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.”

James Madison, “We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”

Less than 100 years later, this country was torn apart by a terrible civil war. Abraham Lincoln wrote, “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven.  We have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity.  We have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown.  But we have forgotten God.  We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and have vainly imagined in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom of our own.  Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too proud to pray to the God that made us.  It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins and to pray to the God that made us!  All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope, authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less the pardon of our national sins, and restoration of our now divided and suffering country to its former happy condition of unity and peace.”

In the infancy of our nation, a foreigner, a Frenchman by the name of Alexis de Tocqueville, observed and wrote about the greatness of this country.  He wrote, “I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and ample rivers, and it was not there; in the fertile fields, and boundless prairies, and it was not there; in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there.  Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness, did I understand the secret of her genius and power.  America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

I hope you don’t miss that.  De Tocqueville’s words remain today as a promise or a warning depending on the direction this generation takes it.

There are two verses of Scripture that come to mind; Prov. 14:34 says, “Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a disgrace to any people.”  And another one is Psalm 33:12, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”
Now I don’t know if de Tocqueville was a Christian.  But I do know that he recognized that America’s greatness was a result of her goodness, and her goodness was rooted in her reverence for God and her respect for His laws and His Gospel.  America was great because her God was Great.

And so as we sing the words to, “MY COUNTRY TIS OF THEE,” I want you to notice in the very first line, that Samuel Smith, the writer of this patriotic song, recognized that our country is a gift from God.  You might not see that because most modern editors have not capitalized the word, "Thee."  In some earlier hymnbooks, it was capitalized.  In my research, I found several explanations for the sentence as it might read without a recognition of God.  But I just can’t see that the sentence makes sense when you try to make the phrase, “'tis of Thee,” to mean “it’s for all of you, the people.”  And furthermore, the author, being a Baptist minister and a theologian, certainly would have been familiar with the difference between the singular pronoun, “thee,” and the plural pronoun, “ye.”

But regardless how modern secularists try to parse it, there is no question that in the final verse, Samuel Smith, appeals to the God of our fathers for His continuing grace, and goodness, and protection for the freedom He has granted us in this land.

Psalm 22:4 says, “In You, our fathers put their trust; they trusted and You delivered them.”  So in our worship services, it is always appropriate for us to thank God for giving us this bountiful land and to praise Him for our freedom.