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, November 13, 2016


We are living in fearful times.  Over the past several months, I have seen many well-meaning Christians who, regardless of their political leanings, using social media to engage thousands of people to pray for the success of their favored presidential candidate as though they really, believed that God would be moved or manipulated by the wishes of the majority.   

And then, in November of 2016, came one of the most divisive and historic elections in our history. Millions of people were apprehensive and fearful about how our country might be changed.  And after we heard the results, we watched as riots broke out in our cities, and the symbols of our republic, our American flags, were being desecrated and burned.  

I know, for my wife and me, these past few months have been especially difficult as we imagined the possibility of our nation, our freedoms, and our way of life being turned upside down by the result of one election. 

So, as I was thinking about our flag, and all that it represents, I began to notice some parallels, to our current politics, in the text of the hymn, REJOICE, YE PURD IN HEART.  It was written about 150 years ago by Edward Plumptre, to be used as a processional for a choir festival at Peterborough Cathedral in England.   But it’s an appropriate hymn for our present times.

The song begins with an exhortation to the people of God, “Rejoice ye pure in heart.  Rejoice, give thanks, and sing. Your festal banner wave on high, the cross of Christ your King.”  The Christian’s banner is the cross of Jesus Christ; He is the King and it represents His kingdom.

So, I had to keep reminding myself that whatever happens in the coming weeks, months and years – God is on His throne; His will is unthwarted and unchanging.  He will accomplish His purpose in this world and He will do it for His glory. 

By God’s grace and with His blessing, we have enjoyed living freely and comfortably in the greatest nation in the history of the world.  And now we are experiencing, first hand, what it might be like when a nation turns against God. 

One of the things that often troubles me, is the thought that I have grandchildren who may never know the liberties that we have enjoyed.  But no matter how much I hope or pray for the next person who will rise to lead this country, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton can help my grandchildren. Psalm 146 warns us; “Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help.”  

Why?  "Because his spirit departs, he returns to his earth; in that very day, his plans perish.”

When I am gone, the Lord will still be God.  He will sustain and deliver His own (including my grandchildren).  This hymn is an encouraging rally call for all of us; male and female; young and old, and the strong and weak alike.  It reminds us that we are to rejoice with praise and thanksgiving to our God in ALL things; whether in good times or times of trouble or woe. 

And the reason is that we have a sure hope.  The hymn expresses it like this; “At last the march shall end; The wearied ones shall rest; The pilgrims find their heavenly home, Jerusalem the blessed.”

We know from Scripture, that there is coming an end to this world, but there is a promise of a new and perfect world ahead, and an eternal rest for the people of God. 

So, the song ends with this fitting Doxology:  Praise Him Who reigns on high, The Lord Whom we adore, The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, One God forevermore.  Rejoice, rejoice!  Rejoice Give thanks and sing.

*Although most hymn books contain only five or six stanzas, the original processional had eleven.  Here they are printed below: 

Rejoice ye pure in heart;
Rejoice, give thanks, and sing;
Your glorious banner, wave on high,
The cross of Christ your King.

Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice,
Give thanks and sing.

Bright youth and snow-crowned age,
Strong men and maidens meek,
Raise high your free, exultant song,
God’s wondrous praises speak.


Yes, onward, onward still
With hymn, and chant and song,
Through gate, and porch and columned aisle,
The hallowed pathways throng.


With all the angel choirs,
With all the saints of earth,
Pour out the strains of joy and bliss,
True rapture, noblest mirth.


Your clear hosannas raise;
And alleluias loud;
Whilst answering echoes upward float,
Like wreaths of incense cloud.


With voices full and strong
As ocean’s surging praise,
Send forth the hymns our fathers loved,
The psalms of ancient days.


Yes, on through life’s long path,
Still chanting as ye go;
From youth to age, by night and day,
In gladness and in woe.


Still lift your standard high,
Still, march in firm array,
As warriors through the darkness toil,
Till dawns the golden day.


At last, the march shall end;
The wearied ones shall rest;
The pilgrims find their heavenly home,
Jerusalem the blessed.


Then on, ye pure in heart!
Rejoice, give thanks and sing!
Your glorious banner wave on high,
The cross of Christ your King.


Praise Him Who reigns on high,
The Lord Whom we adore,
The Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
One God forevermore.


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