“THOU ART MERCIFUL, O FATHER”

Wayne S. Walker

“The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in
mercy” (Ps. 103.8)

INTRO.: A hymn which extols the great mercy of God is “Thou Art
Merciful, O Father.” The text, based upon Ps. 103.8-22, was written by
Elmer Leon Jorgenson (1886-1968). The tune (Jorgenson) was an
arrangement by Jorgenson of music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was
born at Salzburg, Austria, on Jan. 27, 1765. The son of musician and
composer Leopold Mozart, who was kappellmeister to the prince-archbishop
of Salzburg, he is considered by many to be the greatest musical genius
in the history of the Western world. At age six, he began touring with
his father and sister, amazing audiences everywhere with his virtuosity.
His compositions numbered over 600 musical works, including some 41-plus
symphonies, 27 piano concerti, various concerti for other instruments,
dozens of operas, and piano sonatas.

This particular melody is taken from Mozart’s 1778 Piano Sonata in
A Major, K. 331, known as “The Turkish,” where it appears in the first
movement as a theme upon which several variations are then based. In
1782 he married Constanze Weber. While he was famous throughout all
Europe, he was never able to keep nor handle money, and poor management
of his meager income resulted in poverty and hardship. Prolonged
overwork undermined his health, and his premature death came at age 36 in
Vienna, Austria, on Dec. 5, 1791. A number of rather well-known
hymntunes (e.g., Ariel, Ellesdie, and Mozart) have been attributed to
Mozart through the years, but many of them have never been traced to any
of his known works.

This song first appeared in the 1921 “Great Songs of the Church”
edited by Jorgenson, but was omitted in the 1925 edition and his 1937
“Great Songs of the Church No. 2.” It was restore in the 1975
supplement. Since then, it has been used in the 1978 “Hymns of Praise”
edited by Reuel Lemmons, the 1986 “Great Songs Revised” edited by Forrest
M. McCann, and the 1990 “Praise for the Lord” edited by John P. Wiegand.
This is really a very lovely hymn, with a perfect blending of words and
music, that deserves to be much better known and more widely sung than it
is. It is interesting to read through the verses of the Psalm on which
it is based and compare the language of the Psalm to Jorgenson’s
paraphrase.

The song reminds us what a merciful heavenly Father we have.

I. Stanza 1 mentions God’s mercy
“Thou art merciful, O Father, Full of pity, love, and grace;
Thou wilt not forever chasten, Nor in anger hide Thy face.
High as heaven–vast and boundless, Hath Thy lovingkindness been;
Far as east from west is distant, Thou hast put away our sin.”
A. The mercy of God is the reason why salvation is available to us: Eph.
2.4-9
B. Because of His mercy, He will not forever chasten: Heb. 12.5-11
C. The greatest result of His mercy is that He will forgive our sins:
Heb. 10.12-18

II. Stanza 2 mentions God’s pity
“Like a Father’s tender pity Is God’s mercy toward His own;
For He knows our frame, remembering We are dust, our days soon gone.
Like a flower, blooming, fading, Like the grass, we pass away;
But God’s righteousness and mercy On His children rest alway.”
A. God’s pity is like a Father who gives good gifts to His children:
Matt. 7.7-11
B. In His pity He remembers our frame, knowing that we are as the flower
of the grass that fades away so quickly: 1 Pet. 1.24
C. We can be assured that His pity will rest on His children always
because nothing can separate us from the love of God: Rom. 8.35-39

III. Stanza 3 mentions God’s kingdom
“In the heavens, well established, Is His universal throne;
For His kingdom ruleth ever, And His sway all kings shall own.
Bless Jehovah, ye, His angels, Bless Him, hosts of His control.
Bless Jehovah all His creatures, Bless Jehovah, O my soul!”
A. Our eternal Father dwells in the Heavens upon His universal throne:
Matt. 6.9
B. From His throne in heaven, He rules through Jesus Christ, His Son,
who sits at His right hand: Heb. 8.1
C. Therefore, all people should bless Him who sits upon the throne, even
as the heavenly creatures do: Rev. 4.9-11

CONCL.: There was a time when the only singing allowed in most
English speaking churches was metrical Psalms. In reaction to that
extreme, Psalm singing almost died out in many churches, with a few
exceptions. In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in
singing the psalms. I do not believe that when Paul mentions “psalms and
hymns and spiritual songs” that his use of the word “psalms” is limited
to the Psalms of the Old Testament but likely includes any songs that are
of that nature and character. However, it is certainly true that a lot
of the Psalms in the Old Testament contain many thoughts that are worth
singing about. The passage upon which this song is based shows
conclusively that the common idea that the God of the Old Testament was
only a God of justice, whereas the God of the New Testament is only a God
of grace, is not scriptural. Saints under both covenants could approach
the God of heaven and say, “Thou Art Merciful, O Father.”

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