1 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.
2 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 through his blood.
3 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?
4 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.
The text arose out of Watts' meditation on Galatians 6:14: "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . ." Originally in five stanzas (the fourth is commonly omitted), the text was subtitled "Crucifixion to the World, by the Cross of Christ."
The text is a meditation on Christ's atoning death: at the cross God's love is revealed, to each believer, requiring total commitment to Christ-"my soul, my life, my all!" Watts’ profound and awe-inspiring words provide an excellent example of how a hymn text by fine writer can pack a great amount of systematic theology into a few memorable lines.
This song reflects the narrative of the suffering and death of Christ on Calvary, events whose significance and purpose is deepened by the confessions of the church. Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Days 15-16, Questions and Answers 37-44 explain the significance of each step of his suffering. Question and Answer 40 testifies that Christ had to suffer death “because God’s justice and truth require it; nothing else could pay for our sins except the death of the son of God.”
The Belgic Confession, Article 20 professes that “God made known his justice toward his Son…poured out his goodness and mercy on us…giving to us his Son to die, by a most perfect love, and raising him to life for our justification, in order that by him we might have immortality and eternal life.”
Consider also the testimony of Belgic Confession, Article 21: “He endured all this for the forgiveness of our sins.”