As we enter what is often called Holy Week, I felt led to choose one of the great hymns of faith, written by Isaac Watts, that expresses the truth of this season. Watts (1674-1748) was the son of a schoolmaster and was born in Southampton, England. Watts is said to have been a brilliant child, beginning the study of Latin when he was four and writing verses when he was seven. It is said that as a teenager he complained to his father about the monotonous way Christians in England sang the Old Testament Psalms. His father, a leading deacon, snapped back, "All right young man, you give us something better." At fifteen the young poet turned his talents to the service of the church and the great career in hymn writing began. To Watts, the singing of God's praise was the form of worship nearest to Heaven and he went on to argue, "It's performance among us is the worst on earth." Young Isaac accepted his father's challenge and eventually wrote more than 750 hymns, earning him the title "The father of English hymnody". In his hymns Watts took the Word of God, of which he must have been a diligent student, and distilled it so that all is wisdom, beauty and comfort set before us with plainness and power. Watts' giftedness for writing hymns, combined with his courage in publishing them, would eventually turn the tide against singing only psalms and set a new standard for Christian worship in the English language. C.H. Spurgeon's grandfather, himself a great preacher, and in the line of the Puritans, would have nothing else but the hymns of Isaac Watts sung in his services. Many believe that his greatest composition must be "When I Survey The Wondrous Cross." Tedd Smith is quoted as saying, "It seems to me that Isaac Watts wrote this text as if he were standing at the foot of Christ's cross." Charles Wesley reportedly said he would give up all his other hymns to have written this one. Concerning the hymn's creation, there is no special story that makes it stand out from others that he wrote. But what makes this hymn unique is the particular beauty of its language and imagery, and the power with which it highlights the most significant event in human and personal history - the cross of Jesus Christ. So as we approach Good Friday, may the words of this familiar hymn remind you again of the great price that was paid for your redemption and what our response should be. "Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all."
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 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. 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.
Listen to it being sung here. LISTEN