Tuesday Hymns: “From Depths of Woe I Raise to Thee” (Psalm 130)

In 1523 Martin Luther wrote “From Depths of Woe I Raise to Thee,” which was his German rendition of Psalm 130. He also wrote a tune to accompany it, but the one time we tried to sing it on Sunday night it was an unmitigated disaster (Apparently, his tune just didn’t resonate with our 21st century American ears). We usually sing it to the RUF tune made popular by Indelible Grace (of course, we do it without the funky guitar, although it always seems to end with each of us doing his or her own thing on the last phrase like a group of jazz musicians late on a Saturday night).

Tunes, notwithstanding, the message of the Psalmist was clearly captured by Luther’s verse. One of Luther’s strengths was his understanding of the depth of his personal sin, and the greater depth of the mercy and grace of God mediated to us through the perfect life and sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. Our German friend trumpets the grace of God throughout the hymn but especially in the second verse: “To wash away the crimson stain, Grace, grace alone availeth; Our works, alas! are all in vain; In much the best life faileth: No man can glory in thy sight, All must alike confess thy might, And live alone by mercy.”

May the Lord give us such a vision of our sin, but even more so, a vision of God’s abounding grace.

From depths of woe I raise to thee
The voice of lamentation;
Lord, turn a gracious ear to me
And hear my supplication:
If thou iniquities dost mark,
Our secret sins and misdeeds dark,
O who shall stand before thee?

To wash away the crimson stain,
Grace, grace alone availeth;
Our works, alas! are all in vain;
In much the best life faileth:
No man can glory in thy sight,
All must alike confess thy might,
And live alone by mercy.

Therefore my trust is in the Lord,
And not in mine own merit;
On him my soul shall rest, his Word
Upholds my fainting spirit:
His promised mercy is my fort,
My comfort and my sweet support;
I wait for it with patience.

What though I wait the livelong night,
And till the dawn appeareth,
My heart still trusteth in his might;
It doubteth not nor feareth:
Do thus, O ye of Israel’s seed,
Ye of the Spirit born indeed;
And wait till God appeareth.

Though great our sins and sore our woes
His grace much more aboundeth;
His helping love no limit knows,
Our utmost need it soundeth.
Our Shepherd good and true is he,
Who will at last his Israel free
From all their sin and sorrow.

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