When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

More Than Shedding Tears*

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness. 1 Peter 2:24

Three hundred years before Mel Gibson produced The Passion of the Christ, Isaac Watts wrote the lyrics of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” The third stanza, in particular, graphically portrays the cost of the Cross: “See, from His head, His hands, His feet, Sorrow and love flow mingled down.”

This image, simultaneously beautiful and repulsive, has brought tears to the eyes of devout believers for centuries. However, stirring our emotions was not Watts’ primary purpose for writing this hymn.

Watts concluded his meditation on the magnitude of Christ’s love for sinners by saying, “Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.” And those words make a profound point: God never intended for us to simply cry over Christ’s suffering. Gibson’s movie motivated thousands of people to mourn the agony Jesus endured. However, they still walked out of the theaters without accepting Him as Savior and Lord.

Unfortunately, my response to Christ’s suffering is sometimes more like the movie theater crowd’s than I’d like to admit. I am moved but not changed. I am sorrowful but not repentant. Singing “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” should be more than an exercise in remembrance. It should prune my heart and humble my soul.

If Jesus’ sacrifice does not call me to repentance and obedience, then it has not truly affected me, no matter how many tears I shed.  Paul said it this way: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8).

When we truly survey the cross and kneel in awe before the amazing love that was poured out there, it alters the way we live. We too will “consider everything a loss” except for an increasing devotion to the Prince of Glory who shed His blood for us.


Psalm 22:1-18 is a graphic description of crucifixion that David wrote hundreds of years before the Romans ever implemented this cruel means of execution.Psalm 22:27-31 explains what our response to Christ’s death should be.

Paul advises us to “count ourselves dead to sin” in Romans 6:11-14.  How can we do that? He gives a very practical answer in Romans 12:9-16.

What kind of things did Paul count as “loss”? Read Philippians 3:3-5. What did he seek instead? Read Philippians 3:10.

To read the lyrics of all five stanzas of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” go to http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/w/h/e/whenisur.htm

Denise K. Loock

*Note: This devotion appears in a slightly different form in Open Your Hymnal: Devotions That Harmonize Scripture With Song. Order a copy at http://tinyurl.com/ctfxtko


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