THE PURPOSE OF THIS BLOG

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, April 2, 2017

*PRAISE THE LORD! YE HEAVENS ADORE HIM

In 1739, Thomas Coram founded an orphanage in London.  By the early 1800s, it had become well-known for its music programs and it was a popular attraction for Londoners to attend Sunday services just to hear the children’s choir sing.   George Frederick Handel donated an organ for the chapel and he often presented benefit performances of the “Messiah,” to raise funds for The Foundling Hospital of London. 
 
That archaic word, “foundling,” is defined as “an abandoned infant who has been found.  A young child with no known parents or guardians.

John Keble used the word, foundling, in a verse of his poem, “The Second Sunday After Epiphany:” 

Fathers may hate us or forsake,
God's foundlings then are we;
Mother, on child, no pity take,
But we shall still have Thee.

And the phrase in Amazing Grace, “I once was lost, but now am found,” is an allusion to Luke 15:24, where that imagery was used by Jesus.  In His parable of the prodigal son, the father said, “…my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and now is found.”

The Foundling Hospital is remembered today, mainly because of a hymnbook compiled in 1796, by Coram titled, Psalms, Hymns, and Anthems of the Foundling Hospital, London.  Inside the jacket of that book, was an anonymous poem inspired by Psalm 148.  It became the lyrics of the first two stanzas of the hymn, PRAISE THE LORD!  YE HEAVENS ADORE HIM.

Psalm 148 begins and ends with the same command; “Praise the Lord.”

“Praise the Lord! 

Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise Him in the heights.  Praise Him, all His angels; praise Him, all His heavenly hosts.  Praise Him, sun and moon; praise Him, all you stars of light.  Praise Him, you highest of heavens, and you waters that are above the skies. 

“Let them praise the Name of the Lord, for He commanded, and they were created.  He has also established them forever and ever; He has made a decree that shall not pass away.

“Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures, and all you depths, fire and hail, snow and mist, storming wind fulfilling His Word, mountains and all hills, fruitful trees and all cedars; animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds; kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth; both young men and maidens, old men and children. 

“Let them praise the name of the Lord, for His name alone is excellent; His glory is above the earth and heaven.  He has raised up a victory horn for His people, praise for all His saints, even for the people of Israel near Him. 

“Praise the Lord!”

The Psalm can be divided into three parts:
Part 1 commands the heavens and everything in them, to Praise the Lord.
And Part 2 commands the earth and everything in it, to Praise the Lord.

It may seem odd that God would command all His creation (the sun, moon and stars; the waters, the elements, and all plant and animal life) to praise Him.  The word, Praise, means to recite or reflect God’s attributes back to Him.  How can those things do that?  Well, obviously, not with spoken words or human languages but, in all of nature, His design, purpose, and handiwork are clearly seen.  So, all creation is a continuous testimony to His greatness, and His power, and His Majesty. 

This idea is reminiscent of the opening verses of Psalm 19 where we see a similar testimony of God’s creation. Notice the allusions to speech; “Heaven is declaring God’s glory; the sky is proclaiming His handiwork.  One day gushes the news to the next, and one night informs another, what needs to be known.  Of course, there is no speech, no words— their voices can’t be heard—but their sound extends throughout the world; their words reach the ends of the earth.”

Part 3, is a general command for ALL people, everywhere, to Praise the Lord.  And whether or not they willingly do that now, we know that one day, “Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”  (Rom. 14:11, Phil. 2:9-11, Is. 45:23)

Verse 14 ends the Psalm with a personal reminder to God’s foundling children.  We have greater reasons to praise Him.  We were once lost and now are found; we have been redeemed and adopted.  We have been shown mercy and grace.  And we can praise Him for Jesus Christ who suffered and bled and died for our sins that we might be saved.

So, we are ALL commanded to Praise the Lord.

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