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, May 28, 2017


(This was another service in which I featured the testimony and music of a prolific hymn writer.  All of the songs, in this service, were written by Charles Gabriel.

Opening Song, "Leaning On The Everlasting Arms" 

A teacher, Anthony Showalter, had received letters from two former students on the same day, with similar, heartbreaking news; both men's wives had just died.  He responded to his students with personal letters of encouragement and comfort, and he included these words from Deut. 33:27 in his comments: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” 

As he thought about that verse, the lyrics and melody began to develop in his mind, and before he finished his letters, the refrain was written.

He sent a letter to his friend, Elisha Hoffman, who was a songwriter and composer.  He asked Elisha for his help to write a hymn for his new chorus.  Within a few days, Elisha Hoffman had written the three stanzas of LEANING ON THE EVERLASTING ARMS.  

"I Must Tell Jesus"

Elisha Hoffman was ordained in 1868, and he preached the Gospel for nearly 45 years. There was a family, in his parish, that had become overwhelmed with an onslaught of various afflictions and sorrows.  During a pastoral visit, he found the mother in great despair and depression.  He prayed with her and read some Bible verses that he thought should help, but she wasn’t encouraged and he didn’t know how to help.
It’s likely that he recalled these words from Peter, “…humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.  (1 Peter 5:6-7)
That’s when he told her, “The best thing you can do is take all your sorrows to the Lord.  He can help you.  You must tell them to Jesus."

The woman thought for a moment and then suddenly cried out, "Yes, I must tell Jesus."

When Pastor Hoffman left her, those words were still on his mind and, soon after he arrived home, he scrawled out the words of this song that remind us of our inability to carry all our burdens alone; we need the intervention of our Mighty God.  I MUST TELL JESUS! 

"Are You Washed In The Blood Of The Lamb?"

There is a tendency, in churches today, to present an anemic gospel!  They avoid references to the shed blood of Jesus Christ.  But when we remove the blood from the preaching of the Gospel, we remove the power of the Gospel.

Rev. 1:5-6 says, “…To Him (Jesus Christ) who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”  

Elisha Hoffman knew that God has ONLY one cleansing agent for our sin-sick souls; “…the blood of Jesus, His Son that cleanses us from all sin” (John 1:7).  

No one can clean himself up and make himself acceptable to God.   If we are not saved by the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, who shed His blood for our redemption, then we are still in our sin, without hope, and we face eternal judgment and torment.

So, the question in the song, Are You Washed In The Blood Of The Lamb?” is worthy of the many repetitions. 

Elisha Hoffman concluded this song with this urgent invitation to anyone who is still lost in his sin.  “Lay aside your garments that are stained with sin” (That is an allusion to our natural tendencies to cover ourselves with our own acts of righteousness and our own good religious works.  That started way back in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve tried to cover themselves so that they would be presentable to God.  But they were wrong; He wouldn't accept that.  Blood had to be shed and so God covered them.   God calls all our righteous coverings, filthy rags.).

The song ends with this Good News of hope, “There’s a fountain flowing for the soul unclean” (That fountain is the shed blood of Jesus and it is sufficient to cleanse all who believe.); “ARE YOU WASHED IN THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB? 

"What A Wonderful Saviour"  

Pastor Hoffman had a passion for creating appropriate, gospel-centered music for his congregational worship and he often composed original hymns specifically for use with his weekly sermons.   During, those years, he wrote more than 2,000 hymns and he composed the music for most of them.

In this short Hymn of just a few short stanzas, Elisha Hoffman identifies at least 12 things our Savior has done for us.

*He has made atonement for our sin. 
*He has redeemed us, 
*His blood has cleansed us. 
*He reconciled us to the Father. 
*He lives within us. 
*He walks with us. 
*He keeps us faithful and 
*He gives us overcoming power in times of trouble.

So, after each of these declarations, the hymn repeats the same response of praise; "WHAT A WONDERFUL SAVIOR!"  

(closing hymn) "Glory To His Name"

When Pastor Hoffman wrote this song, he may have been inspired by Psalm 29:2, “...give unto the Lord the glory due to His Name.”   

It’s a simple presentation of the Gospel that, in some ways, parallels, What a Wonderful Savior.  It lists several things that Jesus has done and continues to do for us.

Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay our debt of sin.  When we call on Him in faith, He cleanses us, and we are redeemed by His blood.  We have eternal life, His Spirit lives within us, and He keeps us from the power of sin.

And again, Elisha Hoffman ends this song with an invitation;

“Come to this fountain so rich and sweet,
Cast thy poor soul at the Savior’s feet;
Plunge in today, and be made complete.  

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