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 18, 2017


One of the things I have noticed is that many of the greatest hymns of our faith have been authored by godly men and women who have been tested through extreme sufferings, losses, and persecutions.  And yet God has used them as testimonies to His goodness.
The Reverend, Mr. Henry Lyte, was one of them.   He was a frail, and sickly man who suffered most of his life with chronic asthma and tuberculosis.  Yet his friends described him as “strong in faith and spirit.” 

At the age of twenty-five years, he had just entered the ministry when a close friend and fellow clergyman died because of a serious illness.  That experience changed Henry.  He said, “the death of my friend, who died happy in the thought that there was One who would atone for his delinquencies” made me study my Bible and preach in another manner than I had previously done.”

In 1834 Henry published an obscure collection of 280 hymns that he had written called, The Spirit of the Psalms.  They were not strict paraphrases but they were all loosely inspired by the Psalms.
His classic hymn, "Abide With Me," was the best known of his works for over 100 years, until Queen Elizabeth married the Duke of Edinburgh.
The Queen had chosen one of Henry’s obscure Psalms to be sung at her wedding ceremony.  That single event on November 20, 1947 (which was also the 100th anniversary of Henry Lyte’s death) caught the attention of the whole world and Henry’s hymn was instantly popularized for use at weddings and funerals for decades.  PRAISE, MY SOUL, THE KING OF HEAVEN has probably begun more ceremonies than any other hymn in the English language.

The hymn is a free paraphrase of Psalm 103.  It is a declaration of the Goodness of God.   The author mentions several benefits of God’s grace but I think the most stunning line in the entire hymn, is in the first stanza.  It summarizes God’s goodness in just four amazing words: 
“Ransomed, Healed, Restored, Forgiven.”
And therein is the Gospel; God’s Good News.  

As sinners, we owed a debt that we could not pay.   The payment for our redemption was made by the Son of Man who "gave His life a ransom for many."  

Jesus paid a debt He did not owe.  And for all who have been ransomed, the disease of sin that results in spiritual death has been cured.  We have been made whole.  All our sins have been forgiven.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His Holy Name!
“Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
“Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
“Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
“Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”  (Psa. 103:1-5)

God is Good and this Hymn urges us to do now, what we will be doing in eternity; “PRAISE, MY SOUL, THE KING OF HEAVEN.”

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