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From the Depths of Woe (Psalm 130) Grace Community Church Sunday School

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From the Depths of Woe (Psalm 130)

Grace Community Church Sunday School

I. Author

– This hymn was written by Martin Luther in Wittenberg in 1523 and revised in 1524.

– He originally wrote the hymn and sent it to several evangelical colleagues in order to encourage them to develop their own psalm-based hymns for corporate worship.

– When he revised the originally four-stanza hymn into a fuller, five-stanza hymn to more clearly reflect the Reformation (and really, biblical) emphasis on God's grace, the hymn became a standard in many Lutheran liturgies. It was even sung at Luther's own funeral.

– It's interesting to note that corporate singing was a major emphasis in the Reformers' minds, including (if not especially) Martin Luther and John Calvin.

– We think of the Reformation as a doctrinal, theological revolution (which it was), but the fact that congregational singing is an accepted and expected feature of our worship services today stems from the fact that reformers like Luther and Calvin fought for the people themselves to sing of the grace of God, not just to be sung at about God (generally in Latin, which most people didn't speak anyway).

– The hymn is a meditation on Psalm 130, as opposed to simply putting the text of the hymn into meter and rhyme (a la Isaac Watts).
II. Verse-by-verse Walkthrough

A. From the 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?

(Who shall stand before Thee?)

O who shall stand before Thee?

(Who shall stand before Thee?)
– The psalm begins with a desperate cry (“from the depths of woe,” “the voice of lamentation”) for God to hear him. He begs for God to hear him out (“hear my supplication”), appealing to God's grace (“turn a gracious ear to me”).

– It's somewhat strange to begin praying by begging God to hear you, and yet this is a consistent feature of many psalms.

Isn't the whole point of praying in the first place the fact that God hears? Why would we (and since this is inspired Scripture, should we) pray like that?

God expects us to pray, and he has ordained this world in such a way that he moves within us to cry out to him, and he answers those cries. God teaches us to trust him completely, and one of the ways he does so is to grow us in a way where we feel holy desperation for him.

– John Newton wrote a hymn called “I Asked the Lord,” which is a song where he asked God for “grace and faith,” and God answered with difficulties and trials. God's explanation at the end of the song was this: “ 'Tis in this way,' the Lord replied, 'I answer prayers for grace and faith. These inward trials I employ from self and pride to set thee free and break thy schemes of earthly joy that thou mayest seek thine all in me.”

– When we cry out to God, we know that being able to cry out to him and then being heard by him is nothing but an overflow of grace.

– If God gave what we deserve, we would all be crushed under judgment for our sin.

– Here we see God as the exemplar of the definition of love he gave for the church: for those in Christ, God keeps no record of wrongs; therefore, we are not to, either.

– Our sin is separated from us by an infinite distance—as far as the east from the west (Psalm 103:12).
B. 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

(Live alone by mercy)

And live alone by mercy

(Live alone by mercy)
– Here, Luther begins his gospel emphasis on grace in earnest.

– When my sister and I were little, my mother (rightly so, to be clear) was rather strict about bringing drinks beyond the relatively safe borders of the kitchen and dining room. Our house had light-colored carpet for most of my life, and the various colors of Kool-aid were staple drinks in our house. Red tropical punch doesn't come out of off-white carpet very well, if at all, so we were forbidden from bringing it where we could spill it.

– Our sins are crimson stains (“scarlet,” to use Isaiah 1's language), and we can't get the stain out. When we try, we only deepen the stain.

– God's grace to us in the substitutionary death of Christ can take out the stain of sin and make us white.

– All our works are in vain, because all our works—even the best of them—are tainted by sin. There is nothing in us that is wholly pure and good. We have to trust in Christ for even our obedience as Christians to be accepted—which sends us always back to the gospel, repenting and believing in Jesus to save us from our sins.

– We can live by nothing but God's mercy, or we will surely perish.

C. 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

(Wait for it with patience)

I wait for it with patience

(Wait for it with patience)

– Because our only hope is in God's mercy, Luther then confesses his sole trust is in Jesus and not in anything of himself.

– God's word stands forever, and it is the solid rock foundation for our souls. When our hearts and the Tempter assail us, God's promised mercy is our refuge and strength (Psalm 46:1)--our shield, wielded by faith, that protects us from all the flaming arrows of the Evil One (Ephesians 6:16).

– Luther uses the language of Romans 8 to add an eschatological dimension to this truth.

– And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:23-25 (ESV)

– We are waiting for the full and final display of God's mercy to us, when he welcomes us into Paradise to be with him forever.

That is our hope, but it cannot be seen. In fact, Paul says, we only hope for what can't be seen. Because it's our hope, though, we wait for it with patience. We cry, “Come, Lord Jesus!” and we continue in the ministry of the gospel that God has entrusted to us, and we wait.

D. What though I wait the live-long night,

And ’til 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 ’til God appeareth

(Wait ’til God appeareth)

And wait ’til God appeareth

(Wait ’til God appeareth)

– Much like “The Sands of Time Are Sinking,” Luther compares this life and its war against sin as night. It seems as though this “night” will never end; the battle against sin rages on. Yet, the night will end, and the dawn of resurrection sinlessness will appear.

– Until the dawn does break, we are to trust in God's “saving, helping, keeping, loving” might, neither doubting nor fearing that God will fail to bring any of his children home.

– Luther refers to believers as “Israel's seed” and those “of the Spirit born indeed.”

– We've seen that the new birth wrought by the Holy Spirit happens to everyone who is saved.

– We are called Israel's seed because we, although Gentiles, have been adopted into the family of God's people. In Romans 11, God uses the image of an olive tree. We Gentiles are wild olive branches that God has grafted into the tree of Israel, his people.

In Romans 4, Paul is talking about Abraham being justified by faith, and he points out that Abraham was circumcised after he was saved. Paul then makes the connection to us: “He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (Romans 4:11-12).

E. Though great our sins and sore our woes

His grace much more aboundeth;

His helping love no limit knows,

Our upmost need it soundeth.

Our Shepherd good and true is He,

Who will at last His Israel free

From all their sin and sorrow

(All their sin and sorrow)

From all their sin and sorrow

(All their sin and sorrow)

– “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20b-21).

– “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear” (Isaiah 59:1).

– We are waiting the live-long night for the dawn to appear. While it's night, God cannot and will not forsake us. He will, when the dawn breaks, free us at last from all our sin and sorrow.

– This is the great expectation and reality for God's people. The difficulties, struggles, pains, and heartaches of this life will be eclipsed and obliterated by the glory that shall be revealed in us.

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