Lyrics of Lent Devotion: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

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Lyrics of Lent

There is a wealth of emotion that is triggered within me from the Biblical accounts shared during the Lenten Season.  My reaction to the account of Christ’s crucifixion cuts me to the heart.  The songs we sing in worship act as another means of sharing that gospel.  The words of Isaac Watts’ hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” helps me to reflect on Christ’s sacrifice.

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.

The reason Jesus died on the cross was because of the sins of the world.  Ever since that fateful day in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, all of creation was headed for eternal damnation. (Genesis 3)  It was God’s gracious plan of salvation that stopped us from paying the penalty of death. (John 3:16)  In an act of pure selflessness and love, Jesus bore the brunt of our sins, endured the suffering we deserved, and took our place on the cross.  Due to Christ’s sacrifice, we are given the gift of eternity.  I do nothing, while Christ pays the ultimate price. (1 Peter 1:18-21)

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.

Despite all that Christ has endured on my behalf, I find myself clinging to my sinfulness.  St. Paul’s words to the Romans poignantly express the conflicting response between sinner and saint, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.  For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Romans 7:15-20)  The words of this hymn remind me to call upon God in all seasons of my life, to keep Christ’s actions in focus, and to keep me from sin. (Matthew 6:12-13)

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?

Isaac Watts brings the singer back to the cross of Christ.  All four Gospel accounts paint a vivid picture of Christ’s experience.  Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we can visualize the imprint of the thorny crown and gaping nail marks.  Jesus silently endured one of the world’s cruelest deaths out of love for His creation. It’s a poignant picture of God’s unconditional love for the world meeting His profound sorrow over our sin and death.

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!

The richness of God’s grace lies in the knowledge that there is nothing that I own or can earn that will ever come close to what Christ has done on my behalf.  Jesus stands as my Savior and my Redeemer, offering me forgiveness and eternal life.  Knowing all that Christ has done for me, I can sing with joy and, “…live under [Jesus] in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness…” (Luther’s Small Catechism, explanation to the 2nd Article of the Apostles Creed)