When in the Hour of Deepest Need

This week’s hymn is When in the Hour of Deepest Need by Paul Eber, who was a contemporary of Luther. Paul Eber was a student at the university of Wittenberg and later joined the faculty as professor of Latin. He was a friend of Phillip Melanchthon and stuck by Melanchthon throughout the controversies that followed Luther’s death. This hymn is based on an earlier Latin hymn by Eber’s teacher, Joachim Camerarius. When in the hour of Deepest Need is wonderful for the way it takes the themes and imagery from several Psalms and Epistles and combines them in hymn form. In this hymn we fall on our knees and beg our Lord for mercy. We ask for deliverance from our sins and from the troubles that we face in this life.

Stanzas 1 and 2:
When in the hour of deepest need

We know not where to look for aid;

When days and nights of anxious thought

No help or counsel yet have brought, 

Then is our comfort this alone

That we may meet before Your throne;

To You, O faithful God, we cry

For rescue from our misery. 

The desperate pleading of stanza 1 brings to mind Psalm 102:

1 Hear my prayer, O LORD;let my cry come to you! 2 Do not hide your face from me

   in the day of my distress!

Incline your ear to me;

    answer me speedily in the day when I call

3For my days pass away like smoke,
and my bones burn like a furnace.
4My heart is struck down like grass and has withered;
I forget to eat my bread.
5Because of my loud groaning
my bones cling to my flesh.

The troubles of this life have a way of taking away every false god that we look to for help. As life becomes more and more difficult and troubles increase, we see everything in which we had trusted break down and fail us. This can lead us to realize that only our God can help us. This can lead us to realize that we are all poor sinners who need to flee to God for refuge, forgiveness, and help. This is where we turn in stanza 2. We cry to God for help. This was also the plight of the Caananite woman, who we hear about in the Gospel reading for this Sunday. This comes from Matthew 15:
21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

In the Gospels you will never see Jesus refuse those who come pleading for mercy, even when He has every reason to refuse.  Jesus is not obligated to have mercy on us but He does so out of His great love and compassion. He came to be our advocate before the Father and to make atonement for us, as we sing in the next stanza.

Stanza 3:

For You have promised, Lord, to heed

Your children’s cries in time of need

Through Him whose name alone is great, 

Our Savior and our advocate. 

I think Eber was most likely thinking of 1 John 2 when he wrote this:

1My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

And also Matthew 7:

7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Our Father in heaven has promised to hear our prayers. Not only do we have this great promise, but we also know that we have an advocate, Jesus Christ, who has made atonement for all of our sins so that we may approach our Father without fear. We know that our cries for help will be heard.

Stanza 4:
And so we come, O God, today

And all our woes before You lay;

For sorely tried, cast down, we stand, 

Perplexed by fears on ev’ry hand. 

This stanza brings us back to the Psalms with Psalm 25:

16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
17The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
bring me out of my distresses.
18 Consider my affliction and my trouble,
and forgive all my sins.

Again, we know that we have nothing to offer to God. We need Him to rescue us from every evil and trouble, but most importantly we need Him to rescue us from our sins. All the trouble in the world is the direct result of our sinfulness. We are broken, sinful people in a fallen world and the consequences of that are always with us. Our only hope is to be delivered from sin, death, and the devil by our gracious Lord. The next stanza brings us to confession.

Stanza 5:
O from our sins, Lord, turn Your face;

Absolve us through Your boundless grace. 

Be with us in our anguish still;

Free us at last from ev’ry ill. 


That delivery from sin is ultimately our delivery from all our woes is brought out in Psalm 130:

1Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!

 2O Lord, hear my voice!

Let your ears be attentive

   to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

3If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
4But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.

5I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

7O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
8And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.


We know that God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins (1 John 1:). We know that He will not turn us away and that He forgives us for Jesus’ sake. We rejoice in this great deliverance and forgiveness and seek to serve our Lord with thanksgiving and obedience.

Stanza 6:

So we with all our hearts each day

To You our glad thanksgiving pay, 

Then walk obedient to Your Word, 

And now and ever praise You, Lord. 

We looked at a few verse from 1 John 2 earlier. Now let’s finish that paragraph:

3And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

In response to God’s great mercy we seek to serve Him with our lives. We do, however, often fail and falter along the way. We come regularly to confession and absolution, always seeking His grace and mercy. His mercies are new every morning and we rejoice and gladly give Him thanksgiving, and honor, and praise forever and ever.  We’ll end with the words of Psalm 103:

1 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
   and all that is within me,
   bless his holy name!
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
   and forget not all his benefits,
3who forgives all your iniquity,
   who heals all your diseases,
4who redeems your life from the pit,
   who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5who satisfies you with good
   so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Full audio of the hymn


One thought on “When in the Hour of Deepest Need

  1. I love this hymn but do not know the tune. I found this to be such a wonderful resources. I also enjoyed the acapella rendition. The comments on the stanzas are also helpful, as well as the back ground on the author. I would like to see the motivation (if known) for the author writing this particular hymn as that also can be helpful to see what struggles these saints who have gone before went through in there lives and how God saw them through their own difficulties. Thanks again. Very helpful and enriching.

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