Article

“Depth of Mercy”

Hymn Study
by Dean McIntyre
TITLE:"Depth of Mercy"
AUTHOR: Charles Wesley, 1740
TUNE: GOTTES ZEIT
COMPOSER: Penny Rodriguez, 2007
SOURCE: Worship & Song, no. 3097
SCRIPTURE: John 20:20a; Ephesians 2:1-10; Hebrews 6:6b; 1 Timothy 1:15; 1 Peter 1:3-5
TOPIC: belief/believe; call/calling; conversion; cross; deny/denial; disgrace; grace; lament; mercy; salvation; shame; sin/sinner; woundedness

General

"Depth of Mercy" first appeared in the Wesleys' 1740 hymnal, Hymns and Sacred Poems. It appeared under its original title, "After a Relapse into Sin." Along with "Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown," it is both autobiographical and a prayer, directly relating to Wesley's own personal experience of salvation.

In his 1780 collection, A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists, John Wesley chose "Depth of Mercy" as the first hymn in the section titled "Convinced of Backsliding" and included twelve of the thirteen stanzas. He also changed Charles' exclamation marks in stanza one to question marks. It first appeared in a Methodist hymnal in A Selection of Hymns (1810) and is number 355 in The United Methodist Hymnal (1989) and number 3097 in Worship & Song. The five stanzas in The United Methodist Hymnal and Worship & Song are taken from stanzas 1, 2, 4, 11 and 13 of the original.

Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) is best known for his anthems and services but was also known as the greatest organist of the period. He began as organist of the Chapel Royal in 1601 and became organist at Westminster Abbey in 1623. He composed the CANTERBURY tune for the collection, Hymns and Songs of the Church (George Wither, 1623), in which it accompanied a paraphrase of the Song of Solomon (chapter 4). The adaptation in The United Methodist Hymnal is from Ralph Vaughan Williams' arrangement in The English Hymnal (1906).

The GOTTES ZEIT tune in Worship & Song is by Penny Rodriguez (b. 1958). She began playing piano at the age of six as a child of missionary parents in the jungles of Peru. She attended Moody Bible Institute and American Conservatory in Chicago, majoring in piano performance. She has released nine solo piano CDs of her own compositions and has published several piano books with various publishers (Portraits of Christmas, Portraits of the Cross, Portraits of Christmas II, Portraits of Praise, Images, Images II, Midnight Clear, Near to the Heart of God, Timeless, Morning Has Broken, The Solo Piano Wedding). She has also published close to forty choral pieces. Rodriguez lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, with her husband, Dave, who is senior pastor of Grace Community Church.

Music

The first phrase consists of two short descending melodic sequences using a motive that first rises and immediately falls. The second phrase repeats the rhythmic pattern, but reverses the shape of the melodic line and its motives so that motive now falls and immediately rises, followed by its sequence a step higher. The third phrase begins as did the first, but expands into eighth notes. The fourth phrase rises to its peak and descends in mixed note values and is repeated as the fifth phrase. It is quite unlike themelody used in The United Methodist Hymnal, with its regular and repeated quarter notes with half notes at the phrase points. The rich harmonic structure will appeal to contemporary singers and congregations.

Words

Hymnal editor Carlton Young bases the text on John 20:20a, "He showed them his hands and his side," and upon "the meaning to the sinner of the broken body of Jesus, God's sacrificial gift of life." Other themes include Paul's confession in 1 Timothy 1:15, "The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners -- of whom I am the foremost" and Hebrews 6:6b, "Since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt."

"Depth of Mercy" shares a quality of reflection and questioning with another Wesley hymn, "And Can It Be," written a year earlier (1739). "Depth of Mercy" (st. 1) asks if God, in the depths of his mercy, might lay aside his wrath and spare "me, the chief of sinners." In stanza two Wesley confesses his stubborn resistance to God's grace and call, provoking and grieving God. Wesley continues his confession in stanza three, confessing to having crucified Christ again through his denials, profaning his name and openly shaming him. In stanza four, Jesus – the Savior – demonstrates his great love and compassion for the sinner in displaying his crucifixion wounds and weeping for the lost, and the sinner knows and feels God's love. The final stanza five outlines the steps of salvation, of justification and sanctification: sorrow and repentance from sin…to belief…to assurance of salvation…to "sin no more." In stanza five's second phrase, Wesley's original text was "let me now my fall lament."

Here are Wesley's original thirteen stanzas:

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

8 Jesus speaks, and pleads His blood!
He disarms the wrath of God;
Now my Father's mercies move,
Justice lingers into love.

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.

9 Kindled His relentings are,
Me He now delights to spare,
Cries, "How shall I give thee up?"
Lets the lifted thunder drop.

3 I have spilt His precious blood,
Trampled on the Son of God,
Filled with pangs unspeakable,
I, who yet am not in hell!

10 Lo! I still walk on the ground:
Lo! an Advocate is found:
"Hasten not to cut Him down,
Let this barren soul alone."

4 I my Master have denied,
I afresh have crucified,
And profaned His hallowed Name,
Put Him to an open shame.

11 There for me the Savior stands,
Shows His wounds and spreads His hands.
God is love! I know, I feel;
Jesus weeps and loves me still.

5 Whence to me this waste of love?
Ask my Advocate above!
See the cause in Jesus' face,
Now before the throne of grace.

12 Pity from Thine eye let fall,
By a look my soul recall;
Now the stone to flesh convert,
Cast a look, and break my heart.

6 Jesus, answer from above,
Is not all Thy nature love?
Wilt Thou not the wrong forget,
Permit me to kiss Thy feet?

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


7 If I rightly read Thy heart,
If Thou all compassion art,
Bow Thine ear, in mercy bow,
Pardon and accept me now.

Sources

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Categories: Hymn Studies, Hymnals By Name, Worship & Song