Posted by: rcottrill | April 15, 2013

Depth of Mercy

Words: Charles Wesley (b. Dec. 18, 1707; d. Mar. 29, 1788)
Music: Seymour, by Carl Maria Friedrich Ernst von Weber (b. Nov. 18, 1786; d. June 5, 1826)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: This 1740 hymn by Charles Wesley originally had thirteen stanzas. (You can see them all on the Cyber Hymnal link.) Many hymn books today use only CH-1, 2, and 13, with CH-9 moved to the end to provide a fitting conclusion. The Cyber Hymnal includes a touching story of the powerful impression this hymn made on one who heard it.

Weber was a noted German classical composer of the Romantic period. He was also a brilliant pianist, a conductor, and a guitarist. The hymn tune Seymour is a melody taken from the opening chorus of his final opera, Oberon. It has also traditionally been used with the hymn Softly Now the Light of Day.

Wesley’s original title for the hymn reveals its purpose. He called it, “After a Relapse into Sin.” It seems it may have grown out of his own experience, and be his prayer for forgiveness and fresh assurance.

Several Scriptures relate to the writing of this hymn. One is John 20:20, where the resurrection Christ met with His followers and “He showed them His hands and side” (cf. CH-9). Also of deep concern to Wesley was the stern warning of Hebrews 6:6, where we’re told that sinners”crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.” Finally, there was First Timothy 1:15, with its assuring proclamation, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (cf. CH-1).

CH-1) Depth of mercy! Can there be
Mercy still reserved for me?
Can my God His wrath forbear,
Me, the chief of sinners, spare?

CH-2) I have long withstood His grace,
Long provoked Him to His face,
Would not hearken to His calls,
Grieved Him by a thousand falls.

The plea of the penitent heart for God’s mercy is found over and over in Psalms. (“Mercy” translates the Hebrew word chanan, which can be translated as grace or favour. Have mercy on me is a plea for God to be gracious to an undeserving sinner. For example, it begins David’s great confession, after he committed adultery with Bathsheba.

“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions” (Ps. 51:1).

Similar prayers are found in other psalms. In many of them we get a sense that the burden of guilt for sin is causing physical pain and distress.

“Have mercy on me [be gracious to me], O LORD, for I am weak; O LORD, heal me, for my bones are troubled” (Ps. 6:2). “Turn Yourself to me, and have mercy on me, for I am desolate and afflicted” (Ps. 25:16). “Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am in trouble; my eye wastes away with grief, yes, my soul and my body!” (Ps. 31:9).

It is a great reassurance to find, equally in Psalms, many joyful confessions that God has indeed been merciful. One whole psalm is given over to this theme, with the repeated refrain, “Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever” (Ps. 136:1; cf. vs. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, etc.).

“I have trusted in Your mercy; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation” (Ps. 13:5). “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Ps. 23:6). “Blessed be God, who has not turned away my prayer, nor His mercy from me!” (Ps. 66:20). “Great is Your mercy toward me, and You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol” (Ps. 86:13). “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy” (Ps. 103:8).

CH-13) Now incline me to repent,
Let me now my sins lament,
Now my foul revolt deplore,
Weep, believe, and sin no more.

CH-9) There for me the Saviour stands,
Shows His wounds and spreads His hands.
God is love! I know, I feel;
Jesus weeps and loves me still.

1) What other hymns of confession and deep contrition do you know and use?

2) What is Wesley saying by referring to Christ showing His wounds (CH-9)?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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