Ralph Petersen

Ralph Petersen

Londonderry Air is the name of the musical composition that is the melody for an old Irish hymn of the same name. There’s not much redeeming value in the lyrics of the hymn but musically, it is an excellent composition that most people would recognize as the melody of the famous Irish song, Danny Boy.

A variation of that tune is used in the popular, contemporary secular song, You Raise Me Up.

There are at least 11 Christian songs that have been written for that melody including, He Looked Beyond My Fault and Saw My Need, by Dottie Rambo; What Grace Is Mine, by Kristyn Getty; and Lord Of The Church, We Pray For Our Renewing, by Timothy Dudley-Smith.

One artist has skillfully adapted the text of the 23rd Psalm to the melody and another singer used it in a public performance of the hymn, Amazing Grace.

One of the better songs set to Londonderry Air is I CANNOT TELL, written by an Irishman, William Young Fullerton. As a young man, William heard the Gospel preaching of Charles Spurgeon and he was saved. Spurgeon became his close friend and mentor.

William Fullerton was a Baptist preacher, administrator, and writer. He served as President of the Baptist Union and as Home Secretary of the Baptist Missionary Society. He was a frequent speaker at Keswick Conventions. His published works include biographies of John Bunyan, Charles Spurgeon, James William Condell Fegen, and Frederick Brotherton Meyer, and other missionary histories and devotional writings. He also compiled several hymnals.

In 1966, Ken Bible made some careful alterations to the hymn while respecting William Fullerton’s original work. The result was the amazing song as it is written in many of our hymnbooks. Although it has become a popular and appropriate song for the Christmas season, it is a great hymn of affirmation about the saving work of our Savior.

Philippians 2:7-8 may have provided some inspiration for this hymn; “He (Christ Jesus) made Himself of no reputation taking the form of a bond servant and coming in the likeness of men… He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death even death on the Cross.”

The songwriter poses several unanswerable questions; Why would He do that for us? What would compel Him to leave His Father, lay aside His splendor, and be born in a dirty feeding trough? Why would He choose to suffer the humiliation and the agony of the cross?

There is so much we cannot know and may never fully understand about our Great God and Savior. But there is plenty that we can know from His revealed Word. So, after the questions, come these great declarations of our faith; “But this I know, that Christ, the Lord is risen and because He lives, I’ll rise to life eternal. He took my guilty heart and I’m forever free. The Savior of the World is Lord and King!


I cannot tell why He, the King of Heaven, Should leave the peace of all eternity,

Why God, Himself, should lay aside His splendor, To leave the Father’s side and come to me.

But this I know: Our silence filled with singing, And all our darkness fled from heaven’s light,

When Christ the Lord, so human, yet so holy, In love was born a child for me that holy night.

I cannot tell why He, the Joy of Heaven, Should give Himself to suffer for my sin,

Why Holy God should love me in my shamefulness, Why He should die to draw my soul to Him.

But this I know: That Christ the Lord is risen, And praise His Name, He’s risen now in me!

Because He lives, I’ll rise to life eternal! He took my guilty heart, and I’m forever free!

I cannot tell when He will rule the nations, How He will claim His loved ones as His own;

And who can tell the holy jubilation, When all His children gather round His throne?

But this I know: All flesh will see His glory, And skies will burst as all creation sings.

The Son will rise on one eternal morning, When Christ, the Savior of the world, is Lord and King!

Ralph M. Petersen and his wife, Kathy, are the owners of the OLDE TOWNE EMPORIUM at 212 E. Main St. in Rogersville, Tennessee. Your comments are welcome. You may contact him at ralphmpetersen@gmail.com or by phone at (951) 321 9235.


Originally published on therogersvillereview.com, part of the TownNews Content Exchange.