When I Survey The Wondrous Cross
Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
When I survey the wondrous cross,
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God;
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
See 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?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
When this hymn was published, in 1707, church worship was at its lowest ebb. It was Isaac Watts’s attempt at giving worship greater vibrancy and relevance. Indeed, it was the first hymn to encourage congregations to address God in the first person. He based his words on those of Paul in Galatians chapter 6 verse 14: ‘But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world’. He realised that such a sacrifice demanded complete surrender on his part.
Isaac Watts was a man with an impressive intellect, e.g. he learnt Latin at the age of 4! He spent most of his life in London, preaching and writing nearly 600 hymns. He did not enjoy good health and could not be described as ‘a handsome man’. It’s a reminder of God’s message to Samuel, when he chose a king for Israel: ‘Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature . . . for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’, 1 Samuel chapter 16 verse 7.