Isaac Watts (1674-1748), from a young age, had a way with words. He once frustrated his father by his continual rhyming. When his father scolded him, he quickly replied, “Oh, father, do some pity take, and I will no more verses make” (Isaac Watts, songsandhymns.org). When he was about twenty, he complained to his father about the songs they were singing. His father said, “Well, then, young man, why don’t you give us something better to sing?” (ibid). He arose to the challenge and began to compose hymns.
He is credited with composing over 700 hymns. Here are some which may be familiar to you: Alas and Did My Savior Bleed, At the Cross, Joy to the World, We’re Marching to Zion, I Sing the Mighty Power of God, Our God Our Help in Ages Past, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. This last may be my favorite of all hymns. “Charles Wesley… is reported to have said that he would have traded his own entire output if he could have written that one hymn” (Isaac Watts, encyclopedia.com).
Let’s consider this meaningful hymn.
1. When I survey the wondrous cross on which the prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss and our contempt on all my pride. Meditating on the cross can humble and change a person. It has the power to change one’s priorities. It had this effect on Paul. He had a resume most Israelites could only dream of having.
However, the cross changed his priorities. He wrote, “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet, indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8). The love of Christ changed him. There was no place for pride. He reasoned, “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
2. Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, save in the death of Christ, my Lord; All the vain things that charmed me most I sacrifice them to His blood.
Meditating on the cross takes the focus off of self. It has the power to remove the boasting and the trusting in other things. It did this for Paul. He wrote, “I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain” (Galatians 2:21). Again, “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has be crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14). Once more, he said, “Not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, by that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Philippians 3:9).
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?
Meditating on the cross help remind us what true love is. The cross is about love. “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).
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.
Meditating on the cross should remind us how much we owe to our God and Savior, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1-2). “He has shown you, O man what is good; And what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8). His people should be “zealous for Good works” (Titus 2:14).