* This hymn is offered as a help to enable us to face up to our personal responsibility for the health of the body politic. .Although-I-do-not-doubt-your-grace
It is not always easy to distinguish between those who cannot or will not accept forgiveness and those who, while accepting forgiveness in principle, know that they may be sinning without being aware of it. Perhaps there is no difference. The real difference, which is not difficult to discern, is between the fearful and the unafraid.
This hymn is written for those who ‘do not doubt your grace, but fear to change behaviour’. It is, in other words, intended to help those who feel sorry for wrongdoing to translate their feelings into the true contrition that leads to repentance, to changed behaviour; which is not always easy to do.
This is a sensitive matter, and the hymn tries to recognise that. The choice of ST COLUMBA as the melody to carry the lyric is meant to articulate strong compassion for people in this uncomfortable situation. The melody is in fact used here as a ‘safe setting’ for penitents to expression to their sorrow. The whole hymn may be likened to a penitent making confession as part of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. All that the hymn lacks is the word of Absolution; yet even that word is implied, both by the music, and by the double reference, in the first and last verses, to God’s grace, ‘the very breath of heaven’.
In this hymn the sins in question are ones that are not often named in public. They are culturally ingrained to such an extent that we can be shocked when we realise what we are involved or implicated in. For example: we often welcome visitors (who may be members of the congregation coming for the first time) to our church, to our worship, to sing our next hymn, not recognising how our welcome gives a coded message that two kinds of visitors are welcome: those who accept us as we are, who fit in with the way ‘we do things here’, and the others, whose failure to praise us for our welcome marks them out as fit (in effect) to be less cared about.
The hymn is written between the rock of Paul’s strictures against passing judgement on your brother or your sister and the hard place of Jesus’ insistence that a member of the church (who) sins against me should be forgiven seventy seven times. It is an attempt to take these teachings to heart, not neurotically, but with due seriousness.
To spell it out, three sins are identified, namely: the sin of undermining the weak and judging the strong unfairly; the sin of influencing people malignly, and colluding in a culture that does not actively welcome change and the healthful growth that can emerge from change; and the sin of ‘cold uncaring’, which might be better called dissociation, of wanting not to know: by this means we can plead ignorance and justify ourselves in not trying to understand what is going on.
It may be objected that the closing stanza is an anti-climax: that, having confessed these ‘secret sins’, the appropriate response, rather than pleading for mercy and asking our Saviour ‘to redeem us all’, would be to resolve not to commit them again. The reason that it is as it is has to do with deep cultural habit; these are not easy sins to identify, let alone eradicate, especially in corporate situations. Rather than make this a hymn about my or our determination to sin no more, the intention is to focus on the power of our Saviour’s grace to give true contrition and repentance, to change personal and corporate behaviour. For willingness to acknowledge our need of grace goes a long way towards producing needful change.
 Roman 14.10
 Matthew 18.21-22