Isaac Watts and his hymn – When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

1. When I survey the wond’rous Cross
On which the Prince of Glory dy’d,
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 to 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. His dying Crimson, like a Robe,
Spreads o’er his Body on the Tree;
Then I am dead to all the Globe,
    And all the Globe is dead to me.

5. 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 4th stanza is omitted these days. In the final stanza, some modern variations substitute the word “offering” for “present”.)

Isaac Watts was born in 17 July 1674 at Southampton, Hampshire, England and died as a bachelor at the age of 74 on November 25, 1748 at Stoke Newington, Middlesex, England. He is a non-conformist, an ecumenist, a theologian (he mastered the Biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew), a prolific writer, a philosopher, an educationist, a scientist, a pastor in Dissenting congregation (non-Anglican church), he is one of the greatest hymn writers of all time. He composed more than 750 Christian hymnals. He is recognized as the “Godfather of English Hymnody” and many of his hymns remain inspirational even today and have been translated into numerous languages. His hymn writing helped lead in a new era of English worship for the congregation to experience personal faith through singing.  This song “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” was composed and published in Hymns and Spiritual Songs in the year 1707 and it is one of the most beautiful hymns with an in-depth theology, beautiful rhyming and arrangement of words. The statement given by Charles Wesley, contemporary of Isaac Watts, who is yet another great Christian Hymn writer, brother of John Wesley, founder of Methodist Congregation in England, who wrote about 600 hymns to his credit reportedly said that he would give up all his hymns to have written this one. …. and pour contempt on all my pride. This statement from Charles Wesley is a clear testimony of the profoundness of this song. This song conveys the unfathomable depth of God’s Love and Humility in its richest grace and generosity. This song is one of the favourite songs during the Lenten Season, especially on Good Friday to remember the sacrificial act of Jesus Christ for the redemption of human beings and all creation and prompting us to respond through our actions, which demands “our soul, our life, our all”.

In this time of Holy Week, this song calls us to denounce our human ego, pride, our boastful nature and selfishness prompted by our social and economic status, cultural and religious practices, caste or ethnicity through the understanding of the kenosis of Jesus Christ (Christ emptied himself for our salvation at the Cross) with utter humility. What Isaac Watts truly wants from us is to sing whole heartedly with humbleness “Forbid it Lord, that I should boast, save in the cross of Christ, my God”, based on Galatians 6:14 & 15 “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. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.” In and through the death of Christ and his resurrection from the tomb we became a new creation. What we should be boasting is the Christ who made us who we are now, not what we were before Christ.  Even as he being the most celebrated hymn writer and philosopher of his time, he has everything in his hand to boast about. Yet he did not, because he understood the depth of Christ’s redemptive act.

Isaac Watts’s songs like “Joy to the World”, “Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun”, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past”, “Alas! and Did My Saviour Bleed” to name a few, are the everlasting hymns we continue to sing in various seasons to strengthen our faith in Christ Jesus.

May you all have a meaningful Good Friday and Blessed Easter!


Dr. Hrangthan Chhungi,

A/D Church, Public Relations and Resource Mobilisation.