Hymns – Good Friday – Rev'd Bramwell Bearcroft

16. When I survey the Wondrous Cross

The writer of this hymn , Isaac Watts ( 1674-1748)  is often credited with being the ‘Godfather of English hymnody’ . It is believed that Watts wrote some 750 hymns many of which remain in use today.

Watts was not allowed to attend Oxford or Cambridge because he was a Non-Conformist and he studied at the Dissenting Academy at Stoke Newington.

In addition to his hymn writing , Watts was an outstanding theologian and a logician. Ironically, his book on logic (called Logick) became a standard textbook on the subject at Oxford and Cambridge and then at Yale and Harvard.

The Church of England remembers Isaac Watts in their calendar of saints on November 25th each year.

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

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

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 ?

Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were an offering far too small
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all

If I had to choose just ten hymns to take with me to a desert island then this hymn would be one of them. One of Watts’ commitments to hymn-writing was that the hymns had to speak of a personal experience of God.

Over the past few weeks we have tried to preserve our sanity and our health by walking (which we are allowed to do ). We count ourselves very fortunate to be surrounded by countless footpaths through the hills above The Eastern Algarve. The weather here has been indifferent for some while and there has been a fair amount of rain. The effect of this rain has been a massive increase in the growth of wild flowers. The hills are blazoned with colours.

As we walked, the words of the last verse of this hymn came to me….

Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were an offering far too small

Imagine owning all of nature ! It is so diverse , so wonderful, so rich. Isaac Watts says that if he owned it all it would be far too small a gift to give thanks  to God in return for the gift of His Son. God’s love for us is so amazing, so divine that it demands our souls, our lives our all….

On this Good Friday we have the moment to consider whether we are willing to give our all….everything we are and everything we can be.

Reverend Bramwell Bearcroft (10 April 2020 – Other inspiring hymns brought together by Bramwell are here)


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