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, September 12, 2016


The popular song, HE LIVES, may not be listed among the greatest hymns ever written but it probably qualifies to be among the most loved, especially in American congregations during the mid 20th century.  And I understand the sentimental popularity; it is a lively and joyful declaration of the resurrection of Jesus and it is fun to sing with its antiphonal response phrases in the chorus.
Nevertheless, I have been reluctant to use it because of one glaring weakness that permeates the text.  I am not implying that there is any false doctrine in it; there isn’t

So, what is the problem?  I am troubled by the weak subjectivity of the dominant theme that moves us, three times, to the question in the chorus, “You ask me how I know He lives?” and the subsequent response, “He lives within my heart.”

I understand that each of us has unique experiences where we have felt or sensed God’s nearness, protection, and love in our lives.  For those who are redeemed, we see His hand everywhere and in everything just as the writer has said, “In all the world around me, I see His loving care.”  

Our subjective testimonies may be true, but they’re not compelling proofs. They are secondary to objective truth.   Our confidence (and especially our testimonies to unbelievers) must rest on solid evidence and we have plenty of it.  

So when the song asks the question, “You ask me how I know He lives?”  I think the author could have written an objective response something like, “I’M GLAD YOU ASKED.  THERE IS EVIDENCE BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT.”  But, unfortunately, that doesn’t fit in the musical meter.

So what evidence is there for the resurrection of Jesus from the dead?  

We have the eye-witness testimonies of the apostles and others who met the risen Christ; those who physically “walked and talked with Him” in the flesh. 

We have the account of a doctor, Luke, who recorded the words the angel spoke to the women who were looking for Christ’s body at the tomb; “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen.”  And later, he recorded that Jesus “presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs.”

We have the testimony of Peter who declared, “This Jesus, God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses.”

Even though he often gets a bad rap, I am really glad that Jesus used Thomas to validate His resurrection.  Thomas heard the testimonies of others but he demanded more than just hearsay; he wanted real, tangible evidence; “Unless I see, in His hands, the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them.  Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!”  Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side.  Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”  And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus was seen by over five hundred people, during the forty days between His resurrection and His ascension, many of whom were still alive at the time these accounts were recorded in scripture.

We have the accounts from Paul who, as a skeptical unbeliever and a violent persecutor of Christians, met the risen, glorified Christ on the road to Damascus.

And we have the inspired Word of the living God.  In the words of R. C. Sproul, “We have to determine our theology from the Word of God, not from what we feel.”

This song is most often used in Resurrection Day celebrations but I picked it for today because of its exuberant assurance of great things to come. Jesus said, “I Am the Living One; I was dead and behold I Am alive for ever and ever!”   

We really do serve a risen Savior so we can joyfully and confidently sing,

Rejoice! Rejoice, O Christian, 
Lift up your voice and sing,
Eternal hallelujahs 
To Jesus Christ, the King!

The Hope of all who seek Him, 
The Help of all who find,
None other is so loving, 
So good and kind.


1 comment:

  1. HAH!! That phrase, "He lives within my heart" has always bothered me!