When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

Many of the finest compositions of Watts were written in his youth for a local congregation. In his twenties, Isaac began to debate publishing his works but remained hesitant. His brother encouraged him in a letter, stating, “I am very confident whoever has the happiness of reading your hymns (unless he be either sot or atheist) will have a very favorable opinion of their author.... There is...a great need of a pen, vigorous and lively as yours, to quicken and revive the dying devotion of the age.” Still, it would be seven years later before Watts agreed to the request. A first volume in 1707 was received very well, and an enlarged edition was published two years later. This song appeared in that inaugural publication under the heading “Crucifixion to the World, by the Cross of Christ.”

These lines have been said to be one of the best hymns ever written, one author calling it “the finest hymn in English church history.” Reportedly, even Charles Wesley once said that he would have been willing to give up all his other hymns to have written this one. Yet, for all their richness of rhyme and character, the lines are yet “far too small” to express the immortal depths of God’s divine love!

1.  When I sur-vey the won-d’rous cross
On which the Prince of glo-ry died,
My rich-est gain I count but loss,
And pour con-tempt on all my pride.

2.  For-bid it, Lord, that I should boast
Save in the death of Christ my God;
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sac-ri-fice them to his blood.

3.  See from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sor-row and love flow min-gled down;
Did e’er such love and sor-row meet?
Or thorns com-pose so rich a crown?

4.  His dy-ing crim-son like a robe
Spreads o’er his bod-y on the tree,
Then am I dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.

5.  Were the whole realm of na-ture mine,
That were a pres-ent far too small;
Love so a-maz-ing, so di-vine
De-mands my soul, my life, my all.