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Appreciating Our Lutheran Hymns

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

A Good Friday Hymn

#175 in The Lutheran Hymnal

“Give us something better, young man!”

That stern rebuke launched Isaac Watts, then only 18 years old, into the work of hymn-writing. He had voiced his displeasure with the psalm-singing in the English Reformed church of his day. It was not meant as such, but Watts accepted that rebuke he received from a church official as a challenge. He had a new hymn written by the next Sunday!

Within a matter of a few years, Watts had produced the 210 hymns which comprised his famous collection entitled “Hymns and Spiritual Songs.” The collection was published in 1607.

It is in this collection that we find this month’s hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” Many hold this hymn to be the finest hymn in the English language.

As we during Lent remember the Passion of our Savior, Watts directs us to the cross where we see the height of God’s love on full display.

As we “survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died,” may the love we see not only prompt godly sorrow over what our sins caused our Savior to endure, but also lead us to “count our richest gain but loss, and pour contempt on all our pride.”

Despairing of our own righteousness, let us instead be thankful to the Lord for the holy sacrifice of His Son in our place! As Watts so beautifully penned: “Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a tribute far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.”

–Pastor Paul Krause