Posted by: rcottrill | September 14, 2011

There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy

Words: Frederick William Faber (b. June 28, 1814; d. Sept. 26, 1863)
Music: Wellesley, by Lizzie Shove Tourjée Estabrook (b. Sept. 8, 1858; d. _____, 1913)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The original hymn, which the author (a Roman Catholic) entitled “Come to Jesus,” consisted of thirteen stanzas, of which the Cyber Hymnal gives us twelve. Many Protestant hymnals today use only four of these (CH-1, 3, 5, 8). For a time, the composer of the tune attended Wellesley, a women’s college in Boston. Hence the name of the tune.

The mercy of God is a wonderful and important theme. “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed” (Lam. 3:22). The psalmist tells us, “You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth” (Ps. 86:15). The Hebrew word for mercies (checed) encompasses such qualities as goodness, loving kindness, and faithfulness. There is, also, in the common Greek word (eleos) the idea of compassion for the sufferer, and care administered to the afflicted.

If you’re on board a ship in the middle of the ocean, you can look in every direction and see nothing but ocean. The waters of the sea extend far beyond the horizon. Faber has made this a lovely poetic image of the love and mercy of God. It’s beyond human measure.

CH-1) There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.

In a stanza seldom used, the author says:

CH-2) There is no place where earth’s sorrows
Are more felt than up in heaven.

That’s a wonderful thought. In times of deep distress, it may seem as though God has forgotten us, or that He doesn’t care about what we’re going through. David cried out to the Lord at such a time, saying, “How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?” (Ps. 13:1). From our limited human perspective, this may be how we feel. But the truth is quite different.

Though God allows human suffering to continue for a time, for His own wise and good purpose, He is not uncaring or unfeeling. Now, with Christ seated at the right hand of the Father, we have One who went through the trials we all face, and who sympathizes with us in our weaknesses, extending mercy and grace to all who call upon Him (Heb. 4:15-16).

CH-5) For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.

CH-11 (not used in most of our hymnals), make an interesting point–a point for which I find reason both to agree and disagree. Faber’s words are:

But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.

It’s quite true that, under certain circumstances, “we magnify His strictness with a zeal He will not own.” Eve did that, in Eden. When the devil challenged her with the question, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’”? she responded, “Of fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it’” (Gen. 3:1, 3).

But we look in vain for any prohibition against touching the fruit (cf. 2:17). Since they were to tend the garden (2:15), there might have been occasion to touch the fruit of the tree of knowledge. They were simply told not to eat it. Eve may be trying to convince herself that God is being unfair, by magnifying His restrictions. And we sometimes do that.

That being said, we cannot, in celebrating the great mercy and love of God, deny His zeal for holiness. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God….For our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 10:31; 12:29). When the Lord Jesus drove the money changers from the temple, the disciples recognized a fulfilment of an Old Testament Scripture: “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up” (Jn. 2:13-17). This side of the Lord’s character must not be forgotten.

Questions:
1) What legitimate limits must be placed on the mercy of God?

2) In what practical ways can Christians reflect both sides of God’s character, His mercy and love, and His righteousness and holiness?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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