Hymns have always been a large part of my life and my daily devotions. Whether it was singing in church services, Christian School assemblies, or listening to gospel music at home, hymns have been a tremendous blessing to me. My favorite is Isaac Watts’ best-known hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”
Isaac Watts was born in 1674 in Southampton, England, the son of a Congregationalist minister. He later followed his father’s footsteps into the ministry, taking up the work in Mark Lane Chapel in London in 1702. Unfortunately, his health declined soon after, causing Watts to take early retirement. However, until his death in 1748, he still fulfilled some ministerial duties, but devoted most of his time to studying and writing. His hymns are regarded as his most enduring contribution to the Church. Most hymn-lovers consider “When I Survey” to be Isaac Watt’s best hymn.
It was first published in his book, “Hymns and Spiritual Songs” in 1707. It was designated a communion hymn appearing under the heading, “Crucifixion to the World by the Cross of Christ.” “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14).
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 flow 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.
Shortly after I got saved, this hymn made a great impact upon me. Even though I was young, the Lord really used these words to grip my heart, and they still do. The use of the personal pronouns, “I” and “my” in most of the verses, bring the Savior’s agonies home to my heart personally. I learn what Christ did for me is “my” richest gain, and I am made more willing to suffer loss for Him.
The challenge within verse two forbids us to boast in ourselves. Christ has saved us; therefore, we ought to glory in Him and what He has done for us. Then we should have a right perspective of earthly things; they are “vain” and ought to be on the altar of sacrifice. Are we willing and ready to sacrifice everything for God?
The descriptive words of verse three call worshipers to adore the suffering Savior. Christ willingly entered into His suffering to redeem us from our sin. His pain and agony on the cross reveal His great love for our souls.
The words of verse four challenge us to love the Lord with our all. Have you given Him your all, or are you holding back? Because of the love that Christ had for us, we ought not to hold anything back from Him. “Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my Soul, my Life, my All.”