When I Survey

I find it helpful to use hymns and psalms as devotional material. Mediating on God’s word and works throughout the busy day can be as simple as singing a hymn, psalm, or spiritual song to yourself. One hymn in particular that has been making its rounds in my head during this Resurrection season is Isaac Watts’ “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” penned in 1707.

Apparently, the great hymn writer Charles Wesley said he would trade all his hymns to have written this one (if Wesley claimed that, if baffles me why Chris Tomlin felt the need to add to try to improve it…). Because it is such a famous, familiar hymn I often don’t think about the words as much as I should. The last time we sung this, though, I saw one way in which this is such a great hymn.

The hymn moves from wonder, gratitude, and love for Christ’s work on the cross to the final verse, which is a verse of complete life dedication. It is a great example of the truths of the atonement stirring the right response – orthodoxy (right teaching) is nothing without orthopraxy (right doing), and this hymn encapsulates the truly amazing event of the atonement with the correct response we are to have as God’s children – giving our soul, our life, our all. I love that fourth verse, even though I so desperately fall short of it everyday.

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Price 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 sorry meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

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.

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