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, March 5, 2017


Adelaide A. Pollard was a sincere Christian lady who, from all indications, was fully dedicated to the work of the ministry.  She spent most of her life serving her Lord.  She was convinced that God was calling her to be a missionary.

Following her education in elocution and native cultures, she moved to Chicago and for several years she worked in a variety of Christian ministries while trying to raise funds and support for her desired missionary work in Africa.

She worked as a teacher in two different schools for girls and she was also engaged as an itinerant Bible study teacher.  She aided in the teaching and preaching circuits of two evangelists and later, she taught at a missionary training school.  Though she spent most of her life in ministry work, she was frustrated; the dream of a calling to Africa was fading.

At the age of 45, while attending a prayer meeting one night, an elderly woman was praying.  As she began her prayer, the woman omitted the usual kinds of requests for God to give them health and shower them with physical blessings.  Instead, she simply uttered the words, "It really doesn't matter what you do with us, Lord -- just have your way with our lives . . .."

On her way home that night, that old woman’s prayer reminded Adelaide of a passage in Jer. 18:3-6, “So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel.  And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.  Then the word of the LORD came to me: ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done?’ declares the LORD. ‘Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.’”

Adelaide began to form the lyrics in her mind, and before going to bed, she had written the lyrics on paper.  That night in 1907, was a turning point in her life as she realized that God is in control; He directs us and uses us in His service for His good pleasure.  Nevertheless, she continued to hold out hope that God would lead her to Africa.

At the age of 60, she finally made a trip to a mission work in Africa but, shortly after her arrival, World War I interrupted her plans and she spent the war years in Scotland.  After the war, she returned to the United States in poor health but continued to work in Christian ministries until she died at the age of 72 in 1934.

Some have speculated that this hymn's third stanza is an autobiographical statement of her personal struggles to discern and submit to God's will fo her life.

In 1989, the scourge of Political Correctness brought about two changes in this hymn.  Before it was acceptable for the new United Methodist Hymnal, it was scrubbed of any perceived inferences to racism or slavery.  

In stanza two, the word, "Master," was changed to "Savior."  But that doesn't really make sense in the context of the song; God as our Savior is already presumed but as the Potter, the Lord IS our Master and He has the right to mold us and use us as He sees fit.

The second alteration they made was to the phrase, "whiter than snow."  It was changed to "wash me just now," which was a pointless redundancy as the very next phrase was a repeat of that phrase.

Those who favored the changes argued that one doesn't have to be white to be perceived as spiritually pure and socially acceptable.  An African American member of the committee said, "You can wash me as much as you wish, but after you've finished, I'll be just as black, which is beautiful." 

But the argument was foolish.  This hymn is not about being socially acceptable; it's about our sanctification and our humble submission to our Lord and Master.

To be fair, there were some, on the committee, who wanted to retain the original text.  They rightly reasoned that the biblical reference, in the text, was about our spiritual cleansing as in Psalm 51:7, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow," or in Isaiah 1:18, "Come now, and let us reason together," says the Lord. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool."

Most other conservative denominations did not allow Political Correctness to redefine the biblical teachings of this hymn, but retained the rich text in verse two, as it was intentionally written:

Have Thine Own Way, Lord!  Have Thine own way!
Search me and try me, Master, today.
Whiter than snow, Lord, wash me just now,
As in Thy presence, humbly I bow.

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