In 1707, Isaac Watts wrote what many consider to be one of the greatest hymns of all time: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”. It was written for his church to sing during communion under the title, “Crucifixion to the World by the Cross of Christ”.
It stirred a great amount of controversy (nothing new) because it was written in the first person as a personal experience rather than simply singing doctrine. Watts wanted music that would give the church a way to express personal devotion to God instead of exclusively singing the Psalms and other Scripture set to music.
Although 5 verses were written, it was eventually reduced to only 4 being sung. Watts placed the abandoned fourth stanza in brackets indicating that it could be left out. It reads:
“His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree:
Then am I dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.”
As the title indicates and the context prescribes, it is to be sung with communion in order to look upon the cross of Christ. It is a song of contrast:
- The prince of glory dying on a cross
- The greatest gain being counted as loss
- Love and sorrow mingling in Christ’s blood
A weakness in the song would be that it doesn’t mention what the cross of Christ actually accomplished. The vindication of God’s glory and the salvation of believing sinners. This is clearly not a blight on Watts, as his songs are extremely salvific. However, we’ll be careful to place songs in our set that allow us to survey the cross as well as it’s results for us.