“Out of the depths I cry to thee, O Lord!”
The 130th Psalm belongs to that group of psalms known in the church's liturgy as the Penitential Psalms because they express so deeply and profoundly the thoughts, experiences, and feelings of the penitent sinners who cry out in anguish at the realization of their unrighteousness before the righteous God but who at the same time know their only hope is in the grace and mercy of the same righteous God. Luther called Psalm 130 one of the “Pauline Psalms” because he found in it the expression of that unmerited grace and forgiveness that are at the heart of the gospel and without which—even as the psalm so clearly declares—existence before God is not possible.
Countless others throughout the centuries have identified themselves with the psalmist who uttered these words. Augustine is said to have inscribed the words of the Penitential Psalms on the walls of his chamber during his last illness so that he could make their words his own. John Wesley heard the words of Psalm 130 sung as an anthem at St. Paul's Cathedral on the afternoon of the same day that brought him in the evening to the room at Aldersgate where, as he described it, he found his heart “strangely warmed.” The prayer of Psalm 130 helped prepare him for the transforming experience of the grace of God that changed his life and ultimately the lives of hundreds and thousands of others.
All these have seen in the psalm a mirror on the human plight and a window to the divine forgiveness. “Out of the depths,” its opening words, translated into Latin as De profundis, have become a title for the Psalm, not simply because they are the initial words but because they express a universal experience of despair and lostness. They evoke im-