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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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 IN 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!


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