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 19, 2016


Charlotte Elliott was born, the daughter of a pastor, in England in 1789.  She was a talented woman with a lot of zeal for service in Christian work. 

It’s not certain when but, as a very young woman, she became invalid with severe sicknesses.  Not only was she physically ill, her unrelenting diseases caused a great deal of emotional anguish and spiritual conflict.  She felt useless and uncertain of her ability to please God in any kind of service.  Feeling increasingly unworthy of God's grace and incapable of facing a perfect and righteous God, she started church-hopping and visited many churches.  And she sought the counsel of many different pastors, all of whom instructed her to simply pray more, to study the Bible more, to perform more good deeds, and to resolve to do better.

Most of that advice was worthless because it encouraged her to do more of what she was already trying to do.   It is impossible to merit God’s grace and gain salvation by our own efforts or good works.

For several more years, Charlotte continued to struggle against her sin and self-condemnation.  She was discouraged by her condition that she found described in Romans 7:18: “I know that in me…nothing good dwells; for the will to do good is present with me, but to work out the good is not.”

After some time, she met a preacher named Dr. Caesar Malan.  She asked him, just as she had asked many others, how she might be saved.  Malan responded, “Go to God just as you are.”

Charlotte still didn’t understand the unmerited favor of God’s grace.  She asked him, “Do I not have to do better, make more progress, and improve more before I believe in the Lord Jesus?”

Malan simply repeated: “You must come to Him just as you are.”

Those words would later change her life and inspire the composition of her best-known hymn.

One big event was especially troubling for her.  When she was forty-five, her brother (also a pastor) had planned to build a school of higher education for the daughters of clergymen.   A fund-raising bazaar had been planned to help finance the project and most everyone, in her large church community, worked day and night in preparation for the event -- with the one exception -  no matter how willing and eager she was, Charlotte could do nothing.

The night before the bazaar she was unable to sleep.  The distressing thoughts of her uselessness turned to spiritual conflict.  She doubted the reality of her whole spiritual life.

The next day, during the bazaar, her fears turned to depression and the anguish of that night troubled her all day until she remembered the instruction of Dr. Malan to go to God just as she was and she would find His grace.   That’s when she began to recall all the great certainties and assurances of salvation that she had been taught all throughout her lifetime.
Charlotte had already been a skilled and accomplished writer so she took a pen and paper and began to make notes of the power and the promises of the Lord.   And then, for her own comfort, she began to write out "the formula of her faith" as she reconsidered the Gospel of Peace, the promise of pardon, and the hope of Heaven.

From those notes, she formed the verses of a poem that became the hymn, JUST AS I AM WITHOUT ONE PLEA.  Within a matter of just a few years, Charlotte Elliott had her hymn published, first, in The Invalid’s Hymn Book.

The song is a testimony to God’s grace in and through all kinds of suffering.

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