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 7, 2017


John’s mother was a godly woman who took him to church every Sunday.  She taught him to read and memorize Scripture and hymns.  She prayed that God would use him in Christian ministry.  But when he was seven years old, she died and John was left with his stepmother who allowed him to run free and do whatever he wanted.  He got himself into a lot of trouble.

At the age of eleven, his worldly sea-captain father took him into the slave trading business where he worked as a seaman.  The sailor’s life was not a friendly wholesome environment for a young boy and John became vile and wretched; he had a reputation for his profanity and debauchery.  He was a really, really, bad dude.  

Not only did he grow to reject his mother's Christian faith, he actually led other sailors into unbelief.  Most people thought he was beyond hope and beyond saving.

He was 24 years old when his ship had become severely battered in a fierce storm that had raged on for nearly two weeks.  The canvas sails were thrashed to shreds and the wood planks on one side of the ship had been splintered and torn open.  The ship was taking on water.  They had little hope of survival, but they continued, night and day, working the mechanical pumps, trying to keep it afloat. After eleven days, John was too exhausted to pump so, he was tied to the helm and tried to hold the ship on its course.

That was when he remembered his mother’s teachings and his thoughts began to turn to Christ.  He realized that his life seemed as ruined and wrecked as the battered ship he was trying to steer through the storm.  A little later, he found a Bible and opened it to Proverbs 1:24-31 and, in that storm, he saw his own desperate condition reflected on the pages as if God had written these words just for him: 

“I tried to help, but you refused to listen. I offered my hand, but you turned away from me.  You ignored my advice and refused to be corrected.  So, I will laugh at your troubles and make fun of you when what you fear happens.  Disasters will strike you like a storm.  Problems will pound you like a strong wind.  Trouble and misery will weigh you down.

“Fools will call for me, but I will not answer. They will look for me, but they will not find me.  That is because they hated knowledge. They refused to fear and respect the LORD.  They ignored my advice and refused to be corrected.  They filled their lives with what they wanted. They went their own way so they will get what they deserve.”

That was a day John would never forget.  Almost 60 years later, he would write in his diary, "…I endeavor to observe the return of this day with humiliation, prayer, and praise.  On that day, the Lord sent from on high and delivered me out of deep waters."

He began a disciplined schedule of Bible study, prayer, and reading the works of other theologians.  At the age of 39, John began serving God in the pastoral ministry and he preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ for 43 years.  He wrote and published hundreds of hymns, of which the most famous is "AMAZING GRACE."

John Newton was known as “The Great Blasphemer,” a nickname he had given himself because he knew what he once was; a rude, profane, slave-trading enemy of God.  And he knew that it was only by God’s AMAZING GRACE that he was saved from that storm and saved from God’s wrath.  John Newton never stopped being amazed by God's grace.  At the end of his life, he told his friends, "My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior."

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