Hump Day Hymns: With Broken Heart and Contrite Sigh

With broken heart and contrite sigh,
A trembling sinner, Lord, I cry.
Thy pard’ning grace is rich and free —
O God, be merciful to me!

I smite upon my troubled breast,
With deep and conscious guilt oprest;
Christ and His Cross my only plea —
O God, be merciful to me!

Far off I stand with tearful eyes
Nor dare uplift them to the skies;
But Thou dost all my anguish see —
O God, be merciful to me!

Nor alms nor deeds that I have done
Can for a single sine atone.
To Calvary alone I flee —
O God, be merciful to me!

And when, redeemed from sin and hell,
With all the ransomed throng I dwell,
My raptured song shall ever be,
God has been merciful to me.
-Cornelius Elven (1791-1873)

Being a Christian doesn’t make me happy. Jesus calls all of us, including me, that we must carry our cross on a daily basis (Luke 9:23). In the Decalogue (Exodus 20:1-17) I am continually reminded that I cannot live into what God demands of me, and even in Jesus’ summary of the law, we are given two basic commands — love God, love others (Matthew 22:37-40), and I am still unable to fulfill these.

I’ve never understood those people who argue that happiness and following God go together in that if one follows God, one must be happy. Obviously those people have never read the Bible.

I’m not a Christian because I’m a misanthrope, and I’m not a Christian because I have to perfectly follow a set of rules. I’m not a Christian because I’m better than anyone else, and I’m not a Christian so I can look down my nose at others.

I’m a Christian because I’m addicted to grace and forgiveness. I can’t get enough of it. When I worship in a congregation, a non-negotiable for me is the confession of sin, because the highest point (for me) is the assurance of pardon, where I can be reminded again that God is merciful and gracious and has forgiven me. As a pastor, there is nothing more wonderful than looking other people in the eyes and telling them that God has forgiven them. Telling others about God’s grace is the single best part about pastoral ministry.

I’m a grace junkie and I continually experience this movement of sin-grace and transgression-forgiveness. These two movements are inseparable. Forgiveness can’t exist without transgression, and grace cannot exist without sin. I don’t shy away from sin because I can’t get enough grace and I can’t get enough forgiveness.

* * *

This hymn only makes sense if we make it through each stanza through the very last. Without the last stanza, this hymn simply remains an earnest plea which lacks a response. Without the last stanza, this gives us an image of God which is always watching us, even in our agony, but the last word would be begging God for mercy.

But we do have the last stanza. We are not left wondering if there would be a response, we see that there is a response. The author, and the singers, end with the confession that God is merciful.

There is nothing better than true grace and true mercy. I’m a Christian because of the grace and mercy; we simply have to trudge through the swamp of the realization of sin to get there.

I know that I’m not the partner that I should be, I’m not the pastor that I should be, and I’m not the son or the friend or the brother that I should be. I have a ubiquitous sense of guilt and shame. My only way to continue living is because of my belief that God is merciful and gracious.

I can only plead, “O God be merciful to me!” because I have confidence that I will be able to look back at my life and proclaim, “God has been merciful to me.”

4 responses to “Hump Day Hymns: With Broken Heart and Contrite Sigh”

  1. Another good hymn on a similar theme is “Out of the deep I call.” I sing that one when I feel low.

    1. Oh what a wonderful hymn! Thanks for reading and thanks for offering your thoughts. One of the reasons that I do this on Wednesdays is because there is something about these hymns that I find incredibly profound and meaningful.

  2. And then there is this one (the version I know is by Caedmon’s Call, who also, I believe, sings “out of the deep I call,” mentioned above):

    Thy mercy, my God, is the theme of my song,
    The joy of my heart, and the boast of my tongue.
    Thy free grace alone, from the first to the last,
    Hath won my affection and bound my soul fast.

    Without Thy sweet mercy, I could not live here.
    Sin would reduce me to utter despair,
    But through Thy free goodness, my spirit’s revived
    And He that first made me still keeps me alive.

    Thy mercy is more than a match for my heart,
    Which wonders to feel its own hardness depart.
    Dissolved by Thy goodness, I fall to the ground
    And weep for the praise of the mercy I’ve found.

    Great Father of mercies, Thy goodness I own
    In the covenant love of Thy crucified Son.
    All praise to the Spirit, Whose whisper divine
    Seals mercy and pardon and righteousness mine.

    I don’t think that needs any other comment than what was already said about our need for God’s amazing, abundant mercy. I really enjoy being reminded of these beautiful hymns; thanks!

    1. Amen. And thank you for reading and sharing!

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