Be Merciful, Be Merciful, O God

Be merciful, be merciful, O God

Versifier: Stanley M. Wiersma (1980)
Tune: GENEVAN 51
Published in 2 hymnals

Printable scores: PDF, MusicXML
Audio files: MIDI
Representative text cannot be shown for this hymn due to copyright.

Versifier: Stanley M. Wiersma

Pseudonym: Sietze Buning ********** Stanley Marvin Wiersma (b. Orange City, IA, 1930; d. Amsterdam, the Netherlands, 1986) was a poet and professor of English at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, from 1959 until his sudden death in 1986. He attended Calvin as an under­graduate and received a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1959. His love for the Genevan psalms is reflected in the two books of poetry for which he is most widely known: Purpaleanie and Other Permutations (1978) and Style and Class (1982), both written under the pseudonym Sietze Buning. He also wrote More Than the Ear Discovers: God in the Plays of Christopher Fry and translated many Dutch poems and hymn texts into English, including the children's hymns publ… Go to person page >

Text Information

First Line: Be merciful, be merciful, O God
Title: Be Merciful, Be Merciful, O God
Versifier: Stanley M. Wiersma (1980)
Meter: Irregular
Language: English
Copyright: © 1987, CRC Publications


A fervent prayer for pardon, renewal, and reconciliation with God.

Scripture References:
st. 1 = vv. 1-5
st. 2 = vv. 6-9
st. 3 = vv. 10-13
st. 4 = vv. 14-17
st. 5 = vv. 18-19

Tradition ascribes this prayer to David on the occasion "when the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba." No other psalm matches the frankness and fullness with which Psalm 51 faces the problem of human sinfulness. Sin is first of all sin against God, and no animal sacrifice can effect reconciliation. Only a heart "contrite and broken" can expect God's forgiveness. Moreover, sin springs from a heart so defiled that it must be recreated, made new, to be clean.

The psalm offers an unparalleled confession of sin and a fervent plea for pardon (st. 1); a prayer for forgiveness and restoration to joy (st. 2); a prayer for a new, undefiled heart and for reconciliation with God (st. 3); and a vow to praise when God grants pardon to a "contrite and broken" heart (st. 4). Added to this is a prayer that God's mercy will extend to the whole city of Zion (st. 5)–in Christian terms, to the whole church of Christ.

Stanley Wiersma (PHH 25), who prepared this unrhymed versification in 1980 for the Psalter Hymnal, often spoke of this psalm sung to GENEVAN 51 as the "Calvinist Kyrie" (see PHH 258 for information on the Kyrie). Psalm 51 is also one of the traditional penitential psalms (along with 6, 32, 38,102,130, and 143). Other settings of Psalm 51 are at 167 and 255.

Liturgical Use:
Traditionally in the service of confession of sin; also appropriate for the liturgy of the Lord's Supper and during Lent.

--Psalter Hymnal Handbook



GENEVAN 51 first appeared in the 1551 edition of the Genevan Psalter and is attributed to Louis Bourgeois (PHH 3). Claude Goudimel (PHH 6) composed the harmonization in 1564; the melody was originally in the tenor. One of the longer and more difficult Genevan tunes in the Psalter Hymnal, this Phrygi…

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Psalter Hymnal (Gray) #51
  • Full Score (PDF, XML)
  • Bulletin Score (PDF)
  • Bulletin Score (melody only) (PDF)


Instances (1 - 2 of 2)

Psalms for All Seasons #51B

Text InfoTune InfoScoreAudio

Psalter Hymnal (Gray) #51

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