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, within those parameters, I try to select music that will reinforce and support the text and the 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 few 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 these commentaries 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.

A complete list of hymns is located on the right side panel.

Ralph M. Petersen

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Tribute to the Music and Faith of JOHN W. PETERSON


One of John W. Peterson’s earliest songs was inspired by a promise made at the beginning of World War Two.  When General Douglas MacArthur was forced by Japanese soldiers, to retreat and leave the Philippine Islands, he made a promise to the American troops; he said, “I’ll be back!”

(No, wait, that was Arnold Schwarzenegger.)

Gen. MacArthur said, “I will return!”

For a time, it looked like the General would not be able to keep that promise but he did.  He returned just as he said he would.  That incident reminded Petersen of the promise Jesus made to His disciples; ”I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”

It is popular, today, among many Christians, to doubt Him but Jesus’ promise holds much more assurance and certainty than MacArthur’s ever could.  JESUS IS COMING AGAIN!

John W. Peterson was a fighter pilot who made night time flights over the Burma “Hump” to deliver supplies into China during the war. 
About those long, dangerous flights, he said, “It always seemed that the Lord was very near. Often, while observing the rugged terrain below and the glories of the heavens above, I was overwhelmed by the power of God and the glory of His creation.  Then the thought gripped me that the same God who created this universe with its never-ending wonders was the God who loved me and sent His only begotten Son to take my place on the cross.  I was overwhelmed by His power and love, and the words of a new song (IT TOOK A MIRACLE) began to form in my heart."

In 1961, while leading the singing at a Bible conference, John made opportunities for some of the people to share their testimonies.  One feeble, elderly gentleman slowly rose to speak. 

According to John, the man’s countenance had a warm pleasant glow.  When he told the people about how he came to faith in Jesus Christ, he said, “…it was like HEAVEN CAME DOWN and glory filled my soul.”

John made a quick note of his comment and, by the end of the week, he had written the words and music to the song, HEAVEN CAME DOWN.



Shortly after His resurrection, Jesus’ disciples were hiding together in fear of the Jews.  Jesus appeared to them and showed them His wounds as reminders of the terrible persecution He had just suffered.

Then He said to them, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

That passage in chapter 20 of John’s gospel is the context for the song, SO SEND I YOU.  It has been called the finest missionary hymn of the twentieth century.  It vividly describes the kinds of sacrifices made and persecutions suffered by multitudes of Christ’s servants at home and on the mission fields throughout Church history.

The lyrics were written by Margaret Clarkson, but the music was composed by her friend, John W. Petersen.


If you ever sang in a church choir during the latter part of the 20th century, you are probably familiar with the works of John W. Peterson.

As the president of Singspiration Music Company, he compiled several hymnals, he composed the words and music for over 1,000 gospel songs, and he wrote over 30, easy to sing, Christmas and Easter cantatas.  Of all John W. Peterson’s songs, O GLORIOUS LOVE is my favorite.  It is a simple worship song with a majestic feel that reminds us of God’s great love for us. 

In my darkness Jesus found me;
Touched my eyes and made me see;
Broke sin’s chains that long had bound me;
Gave me life and liberty!

Oh, glorious love of Christ my Lord divine,
That made Him stoop to save a soul like mine.
Through all my days, and then in heaven above,
My song will silence never, I'll worship Him forever,
And praise Him for His glorious love.

Oh, amazing truth to ponder;
He whom angel hosts attend,
Lord of Heaven, God’s Son, what wonder;
He became the sinner’s friend!

“…God commendeth His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Rom. 5:8



John Petersen collaborated with a friend, Alfred Smith, to write a song which has a humorous origin.  Smith was sharing a letter he had received from a descendant of the hymn writer, Philip Bliss.

When Phillip was a very young boy, he had a crush on his young teacher, Miss Murphy.  The children were memorizing the 23rd Psalm.  Phillip hadn’t yet learned to read, so he memorized it by rote but he got some of the words confused.  

Children sometimes do that.  For example, I have a friend who grew up thinking the congregation in his church were always singing, “Lead On, O Kinky Turtle.”

Well, when it came Phillip’s turn to recite the Psalm, he ended it with the line, “Surely good Miss Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life!”

After they finished laughing about that story, they sat down to work and in just one day, they wrote SURELY GOODNESS AND MERCY SHALL FOLLOW ME.

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