Hymn for the day graphic

09 When I survey the wondrous cross – Timothy Dudley-Smith

Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
Public Domain

Bishop Timothy Dudley Smith
Ensemble in the Round

That hymn by Isaac Watts is considered his masterpiece. The poet, Matthew Arnold, thought it the greatest hymn in the English language. For me, the key lies in the start, and in the end: to survey the Cross, and to respond to it.

How does one survey the Cross?

I suggest by using deliberately and unhurriedly an imagination inspired of the Spirit and informed by Scripture. We begin with the story, the actual history told four times over in the gospels. The rest of the New Testament explains the meaning. St Peter, for example, writes of how Jesus himself bore our sins in his own body on the Cross, that by his wounds we might be healed.

To survey and to respond.

I’d been a churchgoer as a child, even if mostly a bored and reluctant one. I knew the story of the Cross, it hurt my feelings rather. So it came as a shock to me in my teens to find how much of Jesus’ teaching is looking for a response to an invitation. ‘Follow me’, ‘Receive me’, ‘Come to me’, ‘Believe in me’. ‘Come to me as your Saviour from sin and death and Master of your life’.

Perhaps you can guess that I did respond. I knew it was for love of me, you and me both, that Jesus died and rose and lives; and his call is still the same. So is his promise. ‘Whoever comes to me I will never turn away’.

May God help us in the light of eternity to survey that Cross, to understand, and to respond.

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;
the very 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.

Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

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