384. When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

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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.

Text Information
First Line: When I survey the wondrous cross
Title: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
Author: Isaac Watts (1707)
Meter: LM
Language: English
Publication Date: 1987
Scripture: ; ; ; ; ;
Topic: Commitment & Dedication; Cross of Christ; Suffering of Christ (4 more...)
Tune Information
Composer: Lowell Mason (1824)
Meter: LM
Key: F Major

Text Information:

Scripture References:
st. 1 = Phil. 3:7-8
st. 2 = Gal. 6:14
st. 3 = Matt. 27:29
st. 4 = Rom. 12:1

Many consider "When I Survey" to be the finest hymn text written by Isaac Watts (PHH 155). In fact, Charles Wesley (PHH 267) is said to have thought it was better than any of his own hymn texts. Watts published it in Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1707) as part of a group of hymns for the Lord's Supper. 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.

Liturgical Use:
Lent; Holy Week; Lord's Supper; many other occasions–perhaps profession of faith, adult baptism, and similar times of consecration and renewal–especially with the unqualified commitment of stanza 4.

--Psalter Hymnal Handbook

Tune Information:

Lowell Mason (PHH 96) composed HAMBURG (named after the German city) in 1824. The tune was published in the 1825 edition of Mason's Handel and Haydn Society Collection of Church Music. Mason indicated that the tune was based on a chant in the first Gregorian tone.

HAMBURG is a very simple tune with only five tones; its simplicity allows us to focus entirely on the text. Sing stanzas 1-3 in harmony and stanza 4 in unison. Try singing one of the middle stanzas unaccompanied. Although some prefer larger organ accompaniment on stanza 4, Watts' profound text can also suggest a quieter and humble treatment.

The suggested alternate tune ROCKINGHAM (178) is also closely associated with this text, especially in British and Canadian hymnals.

--Psalter Hymnal Handbook

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