“Depth of Mercy”


“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us…” (Titus 3:5)

     INTRO.:  A hymn which extols the mercy of God by which we are saved is “Depth of Mercy.”  The text was written by Charles Wesley (1707-1788).  It was first published in His Hymns and Sacred Poems of 1740.  Several tunes have been used with it, including one (Buckland) composed in 1863 by Leighton G. Hayne, and another (Canterbury) composed in 1623 by Orlando Gibbons which is often used with Samuel Longfellow’s “Holy Spirit, Truth Divine.”  In various books, I have also seen Wesley’s hymn with tunes such as that (Seymour) composed by Carl M. von Weber which in our books is associated with George Washington Doane’s “Softly Now the Light of Day” and Jane Leeson’s “Savior, Teach Me Day by Day;” (Aletta) composed in 1858 by William Batchelder Bradbury which is usually associated with John Burton’s “Holy Bible, Book Divine;” (Mercy) composed in 1854 by Louis Moreau Gottschalk which in our books is associated with Rowland Hill’s “Cast Thy Burden on the Lord” and in one book with William Cowper’s “’Tis My Happiness Below;” and (Horton) composed in 1826 by Xavier Schnuyder von Wartensee which in our books is associated with Samuel Longfellow’s “Love for All.”

     Actually, any tune for a trochaic hymn with stanzas of four lines each having seven syllables would fit this hymn.  A couple that come to mind are one used in many Mennonite hymnals with “Savior, Teach Me Day by Day” and another used in some old Baptist hymnals with “Softly Now the Light of Day.”  However, since all my hymnbooks are in storage right now, I cannot check them for any further information on these tunes.  Still another (St. Bees) was composed in 1862 by John Bacchus Dykes; and one more (University College) in 1852 by Henry John Gauntlett.  Ira David Sankey told the story that an ac­tress in a town in England, while pass­ing along the street, heard singing in a house. Out of curiosity she looked in through the open door and saw a number of people sitting together singing this hymn. She listened to the song, and afterwards to a simple but earnest prayer. When she went away the hymn had so impressed her that she procured a copy of a book containing it. Reading and rereading the hymn led her to give her heart to God and to resolve to leave the stage.  (This was undoubtedly at a time when being in the theater and being a Christian were held to be mutually exclusive, and indeed theaters were often places both operated and frequented by ungodly people.) 

     The manager of the theater pleaded with her to continue to take the leading part in a play which she had made famous in other cities, and finally he persuaded her to appear at the theater. As the curtain rose the orchestra began to play the accompaniment to the song which she was expected to sing. She stood like one lost in thought, and the band, supposing her embarrassed, played the prelude over a second and a third time. Then with clasped hands she stepped for­ward and sang with deep emotion:

 “Depth of mercy, can there be

Mercy still reserved for me?”

This put a sudden stop to the performance; not a few were impressed, though many scoffed. The change in her life was as permanent as it was singular. Soon after she became the wife of a minister of the Gospel.

     The song reminds us of the importance of God’s mercy to our salvation and to our lives.

I. Stanza 1 mentions God’s mercy

“Depth of mercy! Can there be

Mercy still reserved for me?

Can my God His wrath forbear,

Me, the chief of sinners, spare?”

 A. God’s mercy is great: Ps. 108:4

 B. While the wrath of God will be revealed against all unrighteousness, toward those who truly seek Him He will not keep His anger forever: Ps. 103:9

 C. Rather, as with Paul, Christ came to save even the chief of sinners: 1 Tim. 1:15

II. Stanza 2 mentions our rebelliousness

“I have long withstood His grace,

Long provoked Him to His face,

Would not hearken to His calls,

Grieved Him by a thousand falls.”

 A. At one time or another, each responsible person has withstood His grace by which we are saved: Eph. 2:8-9

 B. Every time we do that provokes God, as Israel did in the wilderness: Ps. 106:29

 C. Thus, all of us have fallen into sin: Rom. 3:23

III. Stanza 3 mentions the results of our sin

 “I my Master have denied,

I afresh have crucified,

And profaned His hallowed Name,

Put Him to an open shame.”

 A. It is denying the Lord and master: 2 Pet. 2:1

 B. It is crucifying Him afresh: Heb. 6:6

 C. It is profaning His hallowed Name by which we are saved: Acts 4:12

IV. Stanza 4 (actually # 13) mentions repentance

“Now incline me to repent,

Let me now my sins lament,

Now my foul revolt deplore,

Weep, believe, and sin no more.”

 A. One book changes the first line to “Lord, incline me…”  Jesus says that unless we repent, we shall perish: Lk. 13:3

 B. An important aspect of repentance involves lamenting for our sins: Jas. 4:7-9

 C. This shows that we really deplore our foul revolt with godly sorrow: 2 Cor. 7:10

V. Stanza 5 (actually # 12) mentions the example of Peter

“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.”

 A. Jehovah is a God whose eye is filled with pity: Joel 2:18

 B. It was with a look at Peter that Jesus evidently brought the denying apostle to mourn for his sin: Lk. 22:61-62

 C. While the Lord may not literally look at us, He does see from heaven, and His word is designed to convert our stony hearts to flesh: Ezek. 11:19

VI. Stanza 6 (actually # 11) mentions the Savior

“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.”

 A. One book changes the first two lines to “Still, for me…, Holding forth His wounded hands.”  Jesus, of course, is the Savior: Lk. 2:11

 B. Through His word, He still shows His wounds and spreads His hands: Jn. 20:27

 C. And it is by His death that we know that God is love: 1 Jn. 3:16

     CONCL.:  The other stanzas not used in most hymnbooks today are as follows:

3. “I have spilt His precious blood,

Trampled on the Son of God,

Filled with pangs unspeakable,

I, who yet am not in hell!”

5. “Whence to me this waste of love?

Ask my Advocate above!

See the cause in Jesus’ face,

Now before the throne of grace.”

6. “Jesus, answer from above,

Is not all Thy nature love?

Wilt Thou not the wrong forget,

Permit me to kiss Thy feet?”

7. “If I rightly read Thy heart,

If Thou all compassion art,

Bow Thine ear, in mercy bow,

Pardon and accept me now.”

8. “Jesus speaks, and pleads His blood!

He disarms the wrath of God;

Now my Father’s mercies move,

Justice lingers into love.”

9. “Kindled His relentings are,

Me He now delights to spare,

Cries, ‘How shall I give thee up?’

Lets the lifted thunder drop.”

10. “Lo! I still walk on the ground:

Lo! an Advocate is found:

‘Hasten not to cut Him down,

Let this barren soul alone.’”

Wesley could go on and on and on in some of his hymns.  For reasons that I do not fully understand, most modern hymnbook editors take stanza 11 and make it the final stanza even though they sometimes use one or both of the stanzas after it before it.  Maybe they think that it makes a more suitable ending.  In any event, as we consider the fact that God willingly made it possible for rebellious sinners like us to be saved through Jesus Christ, we must be amazed at the Lord’s “Depth of Mercy.”


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