When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
A short meditation on that grand hymn by Isaac Watts.
This week on the church calendar is regarded at Holy Week. It is a week of contemplation if a person travels along the trail from the Triumphant Entry to the Empty Tomb. Each year I take that trip although I am not bound by church channels to do so. No, I travel that trail because I never want to lose sight of the price that Jesus paid so that I could gain entry to Heaven’s portals by His gift paid in full for me on the cross. It is a trip that also gains my access to living under the guidance of His living, shepherding ways.
Today, is the day that I recognize as the day Christ hung on that Roman cross in humility, agony, and a love that I will never understand. This morning as I thought on that Crucifixion, my heart was drawn to sing, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” in a time of meditation. If I were stranded on a desert island, I would want at least two books: a Bible, and a hymnbook. I happen to own Soul-Stirring Songs and Hymns and opened it to that Isaac Watts composition this morning.
Watts, born in1674, was well respected by some of my other favorite composers: Charles Wesley and John Newton. Charles Wesley is known to have said in regard to “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” that he would give up all he had written to have been the author of that one song.
In my research, I discovered a verse that hymn compilers leave out and I will include it here. It is verse 4.
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Price of Glory died;
My richest gain, I count by 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 flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Of thorns compose so rich a crown?
His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
If you don’t know the melody, that’s okay. Let the words sink in to your soul. Watts wrote the words and someone else set them to a familiar melody later. It is the words that matter.