1 Not what my hands have done
can save my guilty soul;
not what my toiling flesh has borne
can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do
can give me peace with God;
not all my prayers and sighs and tears
can bear my awful load.
2 Your voice alone, O Lord,
can speak to me of grace;
your power alone, O Son of God,
can all my sin erase.
No other work but yours,
no other blood will do;
no strength but that which is divine
can bear me safely through.
3 I praise the Christ of God;
I rest on love divine;
and with unfaltering lip and heart
I call this Savior mine.
My Lord has saved my life
and freely pardon gives;
I love because he first loved me,
I live because he lives.
Bonar subtitled the text "Salvation through Christ alone," and that is surely its theme: my salvation is entirely due to the grace of God, my own works have no merit at all, and nothing but the blood of Christ will do (st. 1-2); my natural response, then, is praise, for "my Lord has saved my life" (st. 3)! Bonar was a staunch Calvinist; in writing this hymn he stood resolutely behind John Calvin in the Calvin-Arminius controversy (see the introduction to the Canons of Dort in the Psalter Hymnal for a brief explanation about Calvin's and Arminius's teachings).
Bert Polman, Psalter Hymnal Handbook
God’s children are not called to come before God’s throne with a list of accomplishments, or merits or goodness; they are called, says Our World Belongs to God, paragraph 26, to come with the humility that “…offers nothing but our need for mercy.” Such a cry for mercy comes from our “dying-away of the old self” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 33, Question and Answer 88) which expresses that we are “genuinely sorry for our sin and more and more…hate and run away from it” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 33, Question and Answer 89).
The gifts of renewal and pardon come only “through true faith” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 7, Question and Answer 20) and are “gifts of sheer grace, granted solely by Christ’s merits” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 7, Question and Answer 21). The very act of faith is to plead for his mercy.