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, March 13, 2017


BRETHREN, WE HAVE MET TO WORSHIP is one of America's great revival hymns.  It was authored by George Atkins, in 1819, during the Second Great Awakening.

The title (and some of the lyrics) has been altered in several publications. The word, “brethren” was changed mainly in concession to the modern pressures of political correctness.  It’s frustrating whenever those kinds of changes are made without consideration for the author’s intended use of the language.  Through a careful reading of the text, it is obvious that there was nothing discriminatory in the original uses of the word.  It was a generic noun that referred to both men and women but also for men specifically.  The hymn writer used it both ways; the context makes it clear.

The song begins with a definitive purpose statement; We have come together to Worship the Lord.

In the revised version (sometimes titled “We Have Come To Join In Worship”) the participants, in this act of public worship, are identified as “we” and “us.”  Those pronouns are indiscriminate but, In the original text, the worshipers are more specifically identified as “brethren.”  I think that is an important distinction because the regular, organized gathering of believers for worship is not an open club meeting; it is not our special interests or demographics that hold the Church together.  The Church is a local body of those who have been redeemed and joined together as “brothers and sisters” by our Lord, Jesus Christ. 

After stating the purpose for the meeting - to worship and adore God, the congregation is petitioned to engage in its first and most important order of business - Prayer.   And that prayer has a specific purpose.  God’s people are to pray with sincere expectations that, in our gathering for worship, He will speak to us through His Word. 

Many of you might remember the days when church leaders and some members would come early to church just to pray before the service and to continue, even while the pastor was preaching.  We should all approach our worship services with that kind of prayer.  We should pray for our pastors before they speak and continue our prayers, while they are speaking, asking the Spirit of God to direct their words so that we will hear and understand the very Words of God.  Unless the Holy Spirit is working in us and in our service, everything we do is vanity.

At the end of each stanza, the hymn writer uses a similar phrase of expectation, that God will supply us with an abundance of His manna.   

In Exodus 16, Moses was having a problem with the people. Bible scholars estimate that there were about 2.5 million Israelites, plus a mixed multitude with them, wandering around in the wilderness.  They were hungry and needed food every day.  So, God provided daily bread for them.  It was a complete, perfect food.  It was nutritious, it was satisfying to the taste, and it was all-sufficient for their sustenance.

In this hymn, manna is a metaphor for the Word of God which is our spiritual food; it’s everything we need for our spiritual life and health.  It’s the Bread of Life.

Why did Atkins put so much emphasis on this manna when their purpose was to worship God?   Well, the word, "worship" (in one of its most commonly used forms), means to bow down and obey.  Or to rephrase that, it means to submit to the lordship of God and do what He commands.  And we can’t obey Him if we aren’t hearing (or feeding on) His Words.  That’s why the Word of God is to be preeminent in and central to our worship; we read it, we pray it, we teach it, we sing it, and we preach it.

The hymn also instructs us to look around.  Just like with the children of Israel in the wilderness, we can assume that there will be others among us. We need to be aware of them and pray for them too.  The same manna that sustains our spiritual lives, can give new life to those who don’t know the Lord.

In the second stanza, Atkins reminds us that death is certain and hell is real, so we must preach the gospel.  God saves lost sinners by the preaching of His Word, and by the power of His Spirit.  Paul, the Apostle said, “For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost” (1 Thess. 1:5). 

The instructions, for gathering manna, was for each person to gather for their own sustenance.  But some of those who were weak and could not gather enough, ate from what others had gathered so that no one was left needy or lacking.  Besides the strangers among us, there are also likely to be some who are weak in faith or struggling with sin.  We need to be aware of their needs too.  Where their faith or prayers lack, others can help by encouraging, teaching, and praying for their needs.     

This is a great hymn with a biblically accurate guide for why and how the church is to conduct itself in corporate worship.


Brethren, we have met to worship and adore the Lord our God;
Will you pray with all your power, while we try to preach the Word?
All is vain unless the Spirit of the Holy One comes down;
Brethren, pray, and holy manna will be showered all around.

Brethren, see poor sinners round you slumb’ring on the brink of woe;
Death is coming, hell is moving, can you bear to let them go?
See our fathers and our mothers, and our children sinking down;
Brethren, pray, and holy manna will be showered all around.

Sisters, will you join and help us? Moses’ sister aided him;
Will you help the trembling mourners who are struggling hard with sin?
Tell them all about the Savior, tell them that He will be found;
Sisters, pray, and holy manna will be showered all around.

Is there here a trembling jailer, seeking grace, and filled with tears?
Is there here a weeping Mary, pouring forth a flood of tears?
Brethren, join your cries to help them; sisters, let your prayers abound;
Pray, oh, pray that holy manna may be scattered all around.

Let us love our God supremely, let us love each other, too;
Let us love and pray for sinners, till our God makes all things new.
Then He’ll call us home to Heaven, at His table we’ll sit down;
Christ will gird Himself and serve us with sweet manna all around.

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