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, February 26, 2017


“If Socrates should enter the room, we would all rise and do him honor.  But if Jesus Christ came into the room, we would all fall down and worship Him.” 

That quote, from Napoleon Bonaparte, kind of puts worship in its proper perspective.  We can show our respect, and admiration for famous, noteworthy, and powerful people in different ways; we can wave, applaud, cheer, and even sing.  But I think, when we suddenly find ourselves face to face with the Living God, it will be stunningly different.

Christian educator and author, Bruce Lockerbie, expressed it like this:

"I would like to see a re-emphasis of awe and reverence in worship and a disappearance of 'feel-good religion.’

"People who arrive in heaven in their blue jeans and short shorts are going to be struck suddenly by the necessity to fall down prostrate before the throne.  We dress up for our employers from Monday to Friday but come Sunday morning, it's only the Lord of the Universe, so anything goes.   It's not so much (a matter of) formality (in the way we dress), but a recognition of our place before God.  I recognize that the prodigal son didn't put on a tuxedo to come back home.  But once back, he bathed, shaved, and shed his "pig sty" appearance.

"It seems to me that meshing rigorous, biblical exposition is increasingly hard with a ‘feel good’ mood in the congregation. The preacher is at a disadvantage when everything else, including the nature of the music and the frivolity, connotes a club meeting rather than entering into the sacred presence of a thrice-holy God who is a consuming fire."

O WORSHIP THE KING was written in 1833 by Sir Robert Grant.    He was a man of many academic, military, legal, and political credentials and accomplishments.   His short life was laudable; he served as a member of the British Parliament and he was appointed the governor of Bombay where a medical college bears his name.
But more importantly, he was a devout evangelical Christian with a strong interest in the missionary outreach of the church. 
We can learn more of the man in the writing of his songs than we can from his biographical resume; it is evident that he was a humble man with a great appreciation for the Supreme authority of God.

This hymn was inspired by Psalm 104 and has often been described as “The Model Hymn for Worship.”  When it comes to expressive lyrics that exalt our Almighty God, there are very few equals.
One after another, God’s attributes are proclaimed.  He is our King, our Shield, and our Defender.  He is the Ancient of Days, our Maker, our Redeemer, and our Friend.   He is the God of great power, might, grace, beauty, and care.  And He is also the God of wrath and judgment.  He is to be feared, He is to be reverenced, and He is to be Worshiped.
There were seven stanzas in Grant’s original composition (It should be noted that verse 5 in our hymnbook, was not written by Grant).  His final verse summarizes God’s Majesty and ends in this great song of praise:

O measureless Might, unchangeable Love,
Whom angels delight to worship above!
Your ransomed creation, with glory ablaze,
In true adoration, shall sing to Your praise!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Note to Songleaders

"The people come together not to see you as a songster, but to praise the Lord in the beauty of holiness."  

Charles Spurgeon

Monday, February 13, 2017


I had a brief conversation with a friend, one day, about the Gospel.  Jack professed to be a Christian but there was no evidence of it in his speech, his actions, or his life.  When I began to question him about his faith, he said, “Hey! You don’t have to worry about me.  I’m okay with God; I did that thing years ago.”

That “thing” he referred to was a one-time event in his life when he repeated that prayer and accepted Jesus into his heart. 

And so, he had no interest in hearing the gospel.  He believed that he was a good person and that he had done all the things necessary to ensure his favor with God.   Jack passed away shortly after that.

The question each of us should ask ourselves is, What part did I have in my salvation?  What did I do to merit forgiveness and eternal life?  What good have I done that God should show favor toward me?

For those of us who are saved, the answer to all those questions is, “NOTHING.”  We were depraved.  We were destitute.  We were DEAD. There was nothing any of us could do to merit God's favor.  There was no good that we could do to satisfy Him. 

The Good News of the Gospel is NOT that "God Loves You."  It's NOT that "He has a wonderful plan for your life."  It's NOT that "He is standing and knocking at the door of your heart” hoping that you might invite Him in.

So, what is the Gospel?  In summary, it starts with the bad news; we are all sinners worthy of God’s judgment and wrath, and there is nothing we can do to erase our sin or buy our pardon.  We need a Savior.  We need a Redeemer.

The good news is that Jesus is the only substitute in every aspect of a believer’s salvation.  He lived a perfect, sinless life of obedience to His Father and He did it for us.  He died a horrible death on the cross and endured the wrath of His Father, for us.  He was victorious over sin and death for us.  Our only right response, then, is to turn from our sin and trust Him for our salvation.

AND CAN IT BE? Was written by Charles Wesley and it is one of our greatest Gospel Hymns.  It starts with a series of introspective questions:  Is Jesus’ blood of any concern to me?  Am I the cause of His pain?  Did I cause His death?  And then, as though the lights suddenly came on, the songwriter asks, “What is this amazing love?  How is it that You, my God, should die for ME?”

The whole plan of redemption was decreed, by God, the Father before we were even created.  It was secured by the Son of God, who is our Substitute, while we were yet dead in sin.

And verse two tells us that Jesus, in an act of mercy and grace, left the glory that was His and humbled Himself to become a man.  And He suffered a horrible death for the sins of His people. 

Verse three describes our miserable, helpless condition; we were bound in sin and spiritual darkness without hope until God intervened.  He broke the chains that imprisoned our souls, He shed His Light in our hearts, and He rescued us from the penalty of sin and death.

Finally, verse four is the glorious Good News; There is now, no more condemnation for those who believe.   Jesus paid the penalty for us. God’s justice is satisfied.  He imputed His Son’s righteousness to our account and He gave us new life.  “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  (Rom. 5:8)
This hymn should humble us when we realize that there is nothing we have done or can do to merit God’s amazing love, forgiveness, and salvation.  “(This) is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”  (1 John 4:10)

The song doesn’t do much for our egos but it does magnify and glorify our Savior.


Sunday, February 5, 2017


A pastor friend of mine, died, about a month ago, at the age of 81 years.   Some of you knew him; his name was Tom Hilterman.  Years ago, he told me an amazing story about his friend, Bob Harrah.  In 1954, Bob was a janitor at Akron Baptist Temple, a large church with multiple ministries.

The church staff had planned to start a new church in a small facility about 60 miles away.  They leased a facility for one year, furnished it with chairs and hymnbooks, and assigned one of their associate pastors to start the new ministry.

After several months of unsuccessful efforts, the associate pastor gave up and returned to Akron.   Bob was sent to bring back the chairs and books and lock up the property.

As soon as he arrived, he sensed the Spirit of God calling him to that ministry, and he immediately phoned his pastor with a proposal.  He asked if they would be willing to continue his janitor’s salary for the remainder of the lease, and allow him to try to start up the new church.  His pastor agreed and Bob started to work.

He walked the neighborhood, knocking on doors.  At one home, he met some ladies with their mother and their aunt. They visited for a while and then Bob invited them to come to the very first meeting of the new church. When Sunday arrived, those ladies were the only ones who attended but Bob conducted the service anyway.  He accompanied their singing with an old, beat up, guitar.

The next Sunday, again, only the six of them attended but Bob was not discouraged. He just kept inviting neighbors to church and preaching the Gospel.  God began to work in that church and, people’s lives were being changed.
One of those first six ladies was my pastor friend’s wife, Barbara.  During that first visit to her home, he asked her to read Romans 10: 9-10. When Barbara read, “…if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved,” she believed God’s Word and He saved her.

Bob pastored there for many years and eventually, that little church grew to about 350 members and they have helped start about fifteen other churches.
By most people’s assessment, Pastor Bob Harrah was destined for failure.  He had no credentials, no education, no experience, and no idea what he was doing.  He used no modern marketing gimmicks, no Starbucks Coffee in the lobby, and no opinion polls to find out what the local community wanted in a church.  He didn’t even have a clever, church growth plan published by some megachurch celebrity preacher.

In fact, he didn’t have any books at all.   One day Tom Hilterman saw that Bob’s bookshelves were empty.  He thought, “Every pastor should have a library to help in his studies,” so Tom gave him some of his own books. Later, during another visit, Tom noticed that there were still no books in Bob’s office, so he asked where they were.  “I gave them away,” he said, “I don’t need any other books.  I have the Bible; it’s enough.”

Every Sunday, Bob stepped up to his pulpit, opened his Bible, and began to do the only thing he knew; He read the Word of God.   And when he finished the passage, he always turned back to Isaiah 1:18 and read, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
And then he moved the subject directly to the cross and he preached the gospel; he told his people how Jesus suffered and bled and died to pay the penalty for their sins and to provide for their salvation. 

Pastor Bob never deviated from that pattern.  He didn’t have much but he had all he needed; he just preached “The Book, The Blood, and The Blessed Hope.”

Several well-known hymns and gospel songs have been written that build on that three-point doctrinal pattern but my favorite is, MY FAITH HAS FOUND A RESTING PLACE.  Those foundational themes are emphasized throughout the hymn.  As you read through the lyrics, note how many times the author references the Word of God, the sacrificial Blood of Christ, and our salvation which is our Blessed Hope. 

And then, following each stanza is this great declaration of encouragement and assurance; “I need no other argument; I need no other plea.  It is enough that Jesus died and that He died for me.”


My faith has found a resting place,
Not in device nor creed.
I trust the ever-living One;
His wounds for me shall plead.

Enough for me that Jesus saves,
This ends my fear and doubt;
A sinful soul, I come to Him;
He'll never cast me out.

My heart is leaning on the Word-
The written Word of God;
Salvation by my Savior's Name;
Salvation through His blood.

My Great Physician heals the sick,
The lost He came to save.
For me His precious blood He shed;
For me His life He gave.

I need no other argument,
I need no other plea;
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that He died for me.