Based on Psalm 130, the chorale "From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee" is the first funeral hymn of the Lutheran Reformation. It was sung at Frederick the Wise's funeral in Wittenberg in 1525. This hymn was also sung a Martin Luther's funeral at Halle, Germany, before his body was moved to Wittenberg for final burial in the Castle Church.
The melody with its downward leaps is very solemn as well as majestic, which is fitting for funeral use. Like many other Luther hymns, there is a hint of the old medieval sound, which is characteristic of the eight different musical scales (modes) at the time. By the time of Luther's death in 1546, these eight musical scales were a thing of the past. In the beginning of the 1600s, there would only be "major" and "minor" musical scales in Western music.
When looking at the text of this hymn, we see the Lutheran faith and the Christian hope of heaven in every stanza. This hymn is another fine tool to teach salvation.
—Pastor Gordon Waterman
1. From depths of woe I cry to Thee,
Lord, hear me, I implore Thee.
Bend down Thy gracious ear to me,
My prayer let come before Thee.
If Thou rememberest each misdeed,
If each should have its rightful meed,
Who may abide Thy presence?
2. Thy love and grace alone avail
To blot out my transgression;
The best and holiest deeds must fail
To break sin’s dread oppression.
Before Thee none can boasting stand,
But all must fear Thy strict demand
And live alone by mercy.
3. Therefore my hope is in the Lord
And not in mine own merit;
It rests upon His faithful Word
To them of contrite spirit
That He is merciful and just;
This is my comfort and my trust.
His help I wait with patience.
4. And though it tarry till the night
And till the morning waken,
My heart shall never doubt His might
Nor count itself forsaken.
Do thus, O ye of Israel’s seed,
Ye of the Spirit born indeed;
Wait for your God’s appearing.
5. 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.
By Martin Luther, 1523
Based on Psalm 130