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

Please follow this blog to keep notified of new entries.

Sunday, July 16, 2017


The reformation was responsible for many Christians fleeing Europe to relocate where they could exercise their faith without persecution.  And the result was the spreading of the Gospel throughout the world.

The Hussite movement that became the Moravian Church, was started by John Huss in the early 15th century in what is today, the Czech Republic.   Hus protested some of the unbiblical doctrines and the political persecutions executed by the Roman Catholic Church.  Since the movement predated the Protestant Reformation by a century, some historians claim the Moravian Church was the first Protestant church.

About 400 years later, James Montgomery, a Moravian orphan grew up to become a prominent British journalist and one of England’s greatest hymn writers.
As a newspaper editor in Sheffield, England, he developed a reputation for his radical editorials which he used to advocate for social reforms and humanitarian causes.  He was passionately critical of slavery, he promoted democracy in government, and the end of the exploitation of child chimney sweeps.  Other causes, he championed, included hymn singing in the Anglican church services, foreign missions, and the British Bible Society.

In Europe, in the late 18th century, Christians who spoke against governments or the Church, were often punished or persecuted.   And so was James Montgomery. He was imprisoned, twice, in the Castle of York, for his editorial activism. The first time was for printing a poem that celebrated the fall of the Bastille which, ironically, was a French prison for political critics who wrote things that displeased the royal government.

A year after his release, he was incarcerated, again, for criticizing a judge who forcefully dispersed a political protest in Sheffield.

So, from his cell, James used his writing ability to profit from his imprisonment.  In 1797, he published a pamphlet of poems written during his captivity, that he titled, Prison Amusements, with a subtitle, Words with Wagtails (wagtails are birds that would frequently visit him on his prison window sill).

In a long poem titled, The Pleasure of Imprisonment, An Epistle to A Friend, he details every moment of his daily routine as a prisoner.   I was amused at this verse where he figuratively thumbs his nose at his captors:
Fanatic dreams amuse my brain, 
And waft my spirit home again:
Though captive all day long, ‘tis true, 
At night, I am as free as you;
Not ramparts high, nor dungeons deep,
Can hold me – when I’m fast asleep!

James Montgomery wrote over 400 hymns including the Christmas carol, “Angels We Have Heard on High” and the communion hymn, “I Will Remember Thee.”   About him, the writer Alfred H. Miles wrote, “His Christian songs are vigorous in thought and feeling, simple and direct in action, broad in Christian charity, and lofty in spiritual aspiration.”

In 1824, he wrote a children’s hymn for the Red Hill Wesleyan Sunday School anniversary celebration in Sheffield.  The song began, “Stand up and bless the Lord, ye children of His choice.”  A short time later, the word “children” was changed to “people.” 

The text was based on Neh. 9:5: “Stand up and bless the Lord your God for ever and ever: and blessed be thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.”

This hymn uses simple and clear language to proclaim the glory of God.  It’s a call for God’s people to stand up with courage and praise God and to boldly speak up and proclaim their faith regardless of the political climate.    


Sunday, July 9, 2017


I was nine years old in 1956 when I spent the summer on my uncle Anton's farm in South Dakota.
Early one morning my older cousin, Lloyd, hitched the horses to the wagon and we headed to the hay fields. The horses must have sensed, probably from past experiences, the hard day that was in front of them because, no matter how hard Lloyd tried to drive them, they only had one speed; SLOW.  We probably only drove two or three miles but it seemed to take forever.

Once we arrived, Lloyd hitched the horses to the hay rake. The team sluggishly dragged the rake over forty acres of freshly mowed hay and we pitched it into huge haystacks.

It was a long, hot, and humid Summer day.  The insects were annoying and the work was hard for all of us, especially the horses.  By the end of the day, we were all parched and weary but our work was done and we were going home.  We hitched the horses to the wagon, loaded our gear, and headed for the barn.

The return trip was different.  Lloyd didn’t have to drive the team home.  Instead, he wrapped the reins tightly around his powerful hands and stood with both feet firmly braced against the wagon’s bulkhead. With all his massive weight and strength, he struggled to maintain some control over the powerful force of those horses thundering down the road at breakneck speeds.  But as hard as he pulled, and as loud as he yelled, he couldn’t slow them down.

We all hung on tightly as the wagon jumped and bounced over the rutted dirt road.  It was a rough and thrilling ride.   

But it was short.  Those horses knew their work was done and they were going home.  They knew the way and they were anxious to get there.

Matt. 5:12 says, “Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven.”

Sometimes life is hard and our difficulties seem unbearable. It seemed that way for Jim Hill.  When he was a new Christian, his 50-year-old mother-in-law suddenly suffered a severe, debilitating stroke.  She was a fine, godly woman and Jim had a difficult time understanding why God would allow that kind of hardship to come on her.

As he was driving home one afternoon he recalled these words from Rev. 21:4, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

He thought, “WHAT A DAY THAT WILL BE,” and the idea for this song began to form in his mind.  As soon as he got out of his car, he found a piece of cardboard on the ground and began to scrawl out the lyrics.

As Christians, we labor and suffer in this life, more joyously than others, knowing that our way leads to heaven.  We are on the trip home and we anxiously anticipate our rest in our Father's house.  

Can you imagine?  “There’ll be no sorrow there, no more burdens to bear, No more sickness, no pain, no more parting over there.  And forever I will be with the One who died for me.  What a day, glorious day that will be.”  

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Man-Centered or God-Centered Worship

"I've come up with a 'drive by' litmus test to get an initial take on whether a church's worship is man-driven rather than God-centered. If the sign in front of the church offers different styles of worship at different times or days (Traditional at 8:00, Contemporary at 10:00, Extreme at 6:00 PM, etc.), the worship at that church is almost certainly far more about pleasing man than about pleasing God.  This isn't to say that a church is wrong to have (multiple) services, but if they do..., accommodating differing personal tastes in music, etc., ought not to be the reason."

Dave Ulrick


Sally was a resident in our assisted living home.  She wasn’t a Christian but she had a curiosity about God and she had a bizarre story.

She claimed that she had died and was carried by angels to heaven.  Her story had all the familiar parts; the white light, the image of “Jesus” waiting at the gate as she was approaching, the sense of peace and overwhelming love, and so on.

But her story had a new twist that I had not heard before. Sally claimed that God stopped her at the gate and said, “You think you know me but you really don’t.”  

So, He turned her around and sent her back until she learned who He is.

OK, so I was (and still am) skeptical about her experiences.  But ever since that alleged event, Sally was on a quest to “know God.”  She spent lots of time in her room reading her Bible.  And when she came out, she often claimed to have some special new insights or revelations from God.

I found myself wanting to refute the inaccurate or nonsensical ideas that she was forming about God but, because she was attending all our Sunday services and listening intently to all our sermons, I decided to hold my tongue.  I knew that arguing would not be productive.   I just listened politely, smiled, and encouraged her to keep reading the Bible.

I take a great deal of consolation in God’s promise in Isaiah 55:11, regarding His Word.  “So shall My Word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”

The Bread of Life is an allegory; it is a picture of Jesus Christ.  We see that in several places in Scripture where the Word of God is described as bread that is to be eaten for our Spiritual sustenance.

The Hymn, BREAK THOU, THE BREAD OF LIFE, is a prayer petitioning God to feed us with His Word.   It was written by Mary Lathbury and there is no question about her intended use of this allegory; This Bread of Life can be found “within the sacred page.” 

That’s where we all start.  Do you want to find God?  He is revealed in His Word.  Do you want to know Him?  Know His Word.
And the last stanza tells us how God accomplishes His work of salvation in the lives of sinners and His work of sanctification in the lives of those He has saved.  It is by the ministry of the Spirit of God who opens our eyes to see Him and leads us into all Truth through the pages of His revealed Word.

 Sally needed what we all need; the life-giving Bread from heaven that nourishes us and keeps us spiritually healthy.   So, we just continued to do for her, what we did for all our residents; we answered their questions from the Scriptures, we preached the Gospel, and we prayed that God would reveal Himself to them.

(Further commentary on this hymn can be found here.)