Posted by: rcottrill | March 11, 2019

Depth of Mercy, Can There Be?

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Also see 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church. As others have contributed ideas, this wonderful resource has grown to over 80 items now. And, for more than three dozen reasons why congregations should still use hymn books rather than merely projecting words on the wall, see The Value of Hymn Books.

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

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Charles Wesley) (for another article see here)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Charles Wesley wrote more than 6,500 hymns. Not all are of high quality, and many have been long forgotten. But his best are considered among the finest hymns in the English language, hymns such as: Jesus, Lover of My Soul; Christ the Lord Is Risen Today; and Hark, the Herald Angels Sing. Carl von Weber was a pianist and classical composer of note. This hymn tune is taken from the opening chorus of Oberon, his last opera.

Did you ever dive into water that wasn’t deep enough for a dive? I did once, but fortunately came away with only a few scratches and scrapes–and an important lesson learned. For others it’s meant crippling injuries or even death. But diving into water that is more than deep enough can be a thrilling and enjoyable experience.

This might be compared, in the spiritual realm, to experiencing the wonderful mercy of God. Mercy is God’s compassionate help for those who are afflicted and wretched. It is a quality that combines with His love and grace in rescuing lost sinners. The psalmist David exclaims, “Great is Your mercy toward me, and You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol” (Ps. 86:13). (Sheol is a Hebrew word referring to the grave, or the abode of the dead.)

Prolific hymn writer Charles Wesley published a hymn in 1740 that seeks to plumb something of the depths of the mercy of God. The hymn as Wesley wrote it had thirteen stanzas, but most congregations now would balk at singing anything of that length. Recent hymnals usually contain only four or five stanza from Wesley’s original.

The hymn may have another drawback, when it comes to modern thought. Wesley’s self condemnation is unrelenting and intense. In order to show the amazing depth of God’s work on our behalf, the hymn writer believed he needed to face the sinfulness of his sin, and therefore how undeserving he was. The song begins:

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?

Consider some of the dire descriptions of “the chief of sinners” we’re given in the hymn: “[He had] long withstood His grace, provoked Him to His face, would not harken to His calls, grieved Him by a thousand falls….I my Master have denied, I afresh have crucified, and profaned His hallowed name, put Him to an open shame….I have spilt His precious blood, trampled on the Son of God.” This is strong medicine!

First Corinthians speaks of those who participate in the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion) with sin on their conscience: “Whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord….For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (I Cor. 11:27, 29). It’s as though such a one is taking the bread and the cup with one hand, and shaking a rebel fist in God’s face with the other. And Hebrews speaks of those who “crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame” (Heb. 6:6).

We may wish to dismiss Wesley’s strong words as only applying to the worst among us, but before he trusted in Christ alone for salvation Wesley was a moral man, active in good works. However he’s speaking of how the Lord saw him–a holy God before whom, “all our [self-generated] righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). Scripture declares, “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God [that is, apart from His intervening mercy and grace]….All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:10-11, 23).

That’s why we’re in desperate need of the help of a loving God. As the psalmist puts it, “Oh, do not remember former iniquities against us! Let Your tender mercies come speedily to meet us, for we have been brought very low” (Ps. 79:8). Which brings us to Charles Wesley’s description of the mercy of God in the latter part of the song.

CH-6) Jesus speaks, and pleads His blood!
He disarms the wrath of God;
Now my Father’s mercies move,
Justice lingers into love.

CH-8) Whence to me this waste of love?
Ask my Advocate above!
See the cause in Jesus’ face,
Now before the throne of grace.

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.

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

That is mercy deep enough to save not only the best of us, but the very worst of us, all who will trust in the Saviour. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16).

Questions:
1) Why do you think we sometimes rate sins (big sins, little sins)? And is this an accurate way to look at it?

2) Based on your knowledge of Scripture, how does God look at our sins?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (Charles Wesley) (for another article see here)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org


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