When we survey the wondrous cross

1
When we survey the wondrous cross
On which the Lord of glory died,
Our richest gain we count but loss,
And pour contempt on all our pride.
2
Our God forbid that we should boast,
Save in the death of Christ, our Lord;
All the vain things that charm us most,
We’d sacrifice them to His blood.
3
There from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flowed mingled down;
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
4
His dying crimson, from His head
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
To all the world then am I dead,
And all the world is dead to me.
5
Were the whole realm of nature ours,
That were an offering far too small;
Love that transcends our highest pow’rs,
Demands our heart, our life, our all.
11
Ana Lara

Tolland, Connecticut, United States

At the time of Isaac Watts’ early years, churches in England sang only metrical Psalms. But by the time of his death, he had developed a style of a much more complex hymnody. His 600 hymns found in seven collections made the transition from stringent metrical psalmody to to liberated theological based hymnody.

This hymn published in ‘Hymns and Spiritual Songs’ in 1707 is significant for being an innovative departure from the early English style the of only using paraphrased biblical texts. The first two lines do paraphrase the Apostle Paul’s verse found in Galatians 6:14. ‘But far be it for me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ through whom the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.’

‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’ is one of Watts finest poems and an excellent example of why he is considered a fulcrum in the transition of hymnody.

The Reverend Dr. Carlton Young, editor of the 1989 U M hymnal notes that this hymn is clearly something different than Watts earlier poems that might be characterized as devotional poetry or as psalm paraphrase. Several hymnologists have noted that this hymn is an excellent example of many of his best techniques such as the ability to write beginning lines which capture ones attention, maintain the theme and build to a climax.

This hymn is particularly powerful because it contains many poetic devices.

For example, irony is found in the first stanza ‘ My richest gain I count but loss and pour contempt in all my pride’

The third stanza contains a paradox of thorns composing ‘so rich a crown’

There are two rhetorical questions the poet asks in the 2nd half of his stanza: ‘Did e’er such love an sorrow meet?’ ‘Or thorns compose so rich a crown?’

In the climactic ending, Watts uses parallelism to evoke a response on behalf of the reader : ‘Demands my soul, my life, my all.’

In this hymnal the last line of the 5th stanza has been changed to a more accurate version ‘demands our heart, our life, our all.’ In the original version Watts uses ‘my’ because of his personal consecration to the Lord but the pronoun ‘our’ is used in this updated version to signify the Body, the corporate expression of Christ. Also heart is replaced for soul. Our heart is our loving organ with which we love the Lord.


Dominic Ogbolu

Port Harcourt, Rivers, Nigeria

Lord Jesus Christ, please forgive my ingratitude!

...... did e'er such love and sorrow meet or thorns compose so rich a crown.

Only God could have inspired this hymn!


Obasi Ogechi

Uyo, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria

What a great love that He laid down His life for us.


Ukoabasi Usen Okon

Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria

Thank You Jesus for saving me through the Cross. What I am today comes only through Your death. I love You Jesus.


Toyin Diyan

London, United Kingdom

Did ever such love and sorrow meet or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Such love that transcends our highest powers demands our heart, our life, and our all! Amen Lord! Make Your home in our hearts and build Your body. Amen!


Helen

Lagos, Nigeria

Beautiful song. The precious cross where my Saviour shed His blood and washed away my sins and redeemed my life from destruction. Thank You Jesus. You are my life my everything. Praise God.


Catherine Garrick

Nottingham, United Kingdom

I pray that God will help me with my pride. I love the line.... And pour contempt on all my pride. I love this greatly inspired hymn. I agree with everyone else, it definitely should be sung in the singular.


Mary Thomas

Tiruvalla, Kerala, India

I fully agree with the comment of 20th July 2014. It should be sung in the singular.


Samuel Tello

NYC, NY, United States

This beautiful and precious hymn written by such a gifted lover of God, should never be sung in the plural. It should always be sung in the singular as Isaac Watts meant it to be sung. Try to sing it in the singular, in a prayerful way and you will understand what I mean.


Mike Hobson

Leicester, United Kingdom

My all time favourite hymn ~ although I much prefer the original words that use "I" and not "we" and "our" making it more personal and in my opinion, meaningful.

I have often thought of the words when I have been too selfish and used them to regain perspective.

The marriage relationship of a husband and wife is a case in point. If it rests solely on the basis of right, it will be difficult for their life to be harmonious and sweet. A true marriage relationship not only rests on the basis of right, but the more on love. Because the wife loves her husband, she becomes one with him and lives with him. So it is in a true consecration to God. When we touch the love of God and see that He truly is lovely, we will then consecrate ourselves to Him. Thus, although consecration based on love changes according to our mood, yet, on the other hand, intense consecration is the result of constraining love. Those who have not had the experience of being constrained by the love of the Lord will not have a consecration that is good and intense. This is quite evident. Number 101 in our hymnbook (When I Survey the Wondrous Cross) tells also a story of consecration because of the love of the Lord. It says that whenever I think of that love which saved me, I count everything but loss, because this love is so great. It goes on to say that I see His condition on the cross, His head, His hands, and His feet flowing with sorrow, love, and blood. All this because He loves me! Having seen such a love as this, if I offered to Him the entire universe, I would still feel ashamed, because His love is so noble, so excelling. If I should seek to repay His love, then I do not recognize His love; I even defile it. His love is like a priceless pearl, while my consecration is like filthy rags—we are simply unworthy of Him. One day, when the Spirit sheds this love abroad in our hearts, we too will have such intense consecration.

The fifth step is the turning. For example, after the remembrance of the Lord, we need to turn to worship the Father. Sometimes the Lord's table has not reached the point of worshipping the Father, but a brother selects Hymns, #33; sometimes a brother selects Hymns, #101 immediately after the bread and the cup have been passed. Both are inappropriate. Hence, there is the need of a sixth step for correction. Sometimes a meeting may be quite long. For example, when a great number of saints gather together, it may take a longer time for the bread and the cup to be passed. If this is the case, there may be the need to maintain the spirit through a hymn or some prayers. This is the seventh step, maintaining the spirit for the meeting. Even though we use hymns and prayers to maintain the spirit, there may still be the need to fill up the time with more prayers and singing. This is the eighth step. Then toward the end of the meeting comes the ninth step to sing a concluding hymn. Sometimes even though the meeting has ended, there is still a lingering air; thus, we may select another hymn to send the saints off. This is the tenth step. This can be compared to sending off a friend who has visited you by walking a distance with him.