This is one of the truly great Lutheran chorales. The text and tune are both by Martin Luther (1483-1546) and the translation is by Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878), that great translator of German hymn texts. It is based on Psalm 130, but it not simply a metrical paraphrase. Rather, it brings that Psalm home for the Christian and speaks of hope we have in Christ, despite our many sins.
From depths of woe I cry to Thee, In trial and tribulation; Bend down Thy gracious ear to me, Lord, hear my supplication. If Thou rememberest every sin, Who then could heaven ever win Or stand before Thy presence?
We begin the first stanza in the very pit of despair and in the midst of many trials and tribulations. We plead for mercy to God, knowing we deserve nothing but punishment and the troubles we are currently in. For our sins are great and if God counted every sin against us, there would be no hope and no chance that He would hear and answer our cries.
Thy love and grace alone avail To blot out my transgression; The best and holiest deeds must fail To break sin’s dread oppression. Before Thee none can boasting stand, But all must fear Thy strict demand And live alone by mercy.
There is nothing within us that can ever make us clean from sin. Yet God, in His great love and mercy, took pity on us to wash us clean. Any boasting in ourselves would be foolish and would fail, but we live by the mercy of God, who loves us and pities us in our great weakness.
Therefore my hope is in the Lord And not in mine own merit; It rests upon his faithful Word To them of contrite spirit That He is merciful and just; This is my comfort and my trust. His help I wait with patience.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” God is faithful and always keeps His promises. He alone has never broken one and He will be faithful to you and to me. So we can rest all our hope on His Word, knowing that His help will come at just the right time. This does not mean we will not have times of distress, but we know that God will help and comfort us in the midst of them. He works all things for the good of His children.
And though it tarry through the night And till the morning waken, My heart shall never doubt His might Nor count itself forsaken. O Israel, trust in God your Lord. Born of the Spirit and the Word, Now wait for His appearing.
God’s time is not our time and His ways are not our ways, so it may indeed seem like His salvation is a long time in coming. Yet the same Christ who died on the cross and rose from the dead on the third day says at the end of the book of Revelation, “Surely I am coming soon.” The Apostle John’s response, and ours is, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”
Though great our sins, yet greater still Is God’s abundant favor; His hand of mercy never will Abandon us, nor waver. Our shepherd good and true is He, Who will at last His Israel free From all their sin and sorrow.
Our sins are indeed great, but greater still is God’s favor towards us for the sake of Christ. He will never leave us or forsake us, but is our Good Shepherd who will at last graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in Heaven. Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!