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, 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.



  1. I love this hymn! We often sing all six verses to "Saved By Grace."