Drop, Drop, slow tears
and bathe the beautous feet.
Which brought from heaven the news
and Prince of Peace.
Cease not wet eyes
his mercies to entreat.
To cry for vengeance
sin doth never cease.
In your deep floods
drown all my faults and fears.
Nor let his eye see sin,
but through my tears.
This hymn for years confused me. Does verse one say that beautous feet brought the Prince of Peace to earth? Whose eye is referred to in verse three and how is that person's eye covered with my tears? It takes a bit of reflection to understand what Phinneas Fletcher, the hymn's author, had in mind.
First of all, in verse one, we are to understand the "which" at the beginning of line three not to reference the "beautous feet", but the "tears". The gospel or the "news" and the one who personified the gospel are brought down from heaven because the world is broken and in tears. It needs the healing of a spiritual physician. Precisely, what Jesus called himself.
Why is the world broken? Why does it need to be healed? Because of the infection of sin. That is what we find attested in verse two. "To cry for vengeance sin doth never cease." While worded strangely, the simple truth conveyed in these words is that sin cries out for the wrath of God. It must be avenged. The only recourse the sinner has is "his mercies to entreat."
Finally, in the last verse, Fletcher really seizes on the idea of water. In order to be healed, we must be cleaned. There is no better agent in the world than water for this task. Spiritually speaking, Christ ordained water for the washing of sins, and the regeneration of souls. We ask for the water Jesus offered the Samaritan woman at the well, to drown all those things wrong with us. And, as we come up out of this water, to be made new.
Nevertheless, we all still sin after our Baptisms, sometimes gravely. Thus, the verse concludes, "Nor let his eye see sin but through my tears." In other words, so great should be our guilt and remorse for continually offending the one who came to save us, that our tears should create a pool of water around us. When the Savior looks at us, his piercing and loving gaze will still see sin, but blurred by the tears surrounding the penitent. For all who ask his forgiveness, the briny liquid of our eyes will be replaced by the purest water of Christ, springing up to eternal life.