Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Singing the Faith: Day 16: Lament and Personal Devotion

When I survey the wondrous cross

This hymn, often sung during Holy Week, is by Isaac Watts(1674- 1747). He was born in Southampton, the son of an elder in an Independent (Congregational) Church, and later became a minister himself. Watts was one of the earliest English hymn writers, part of an early wave of hymn composition after the religious upheavals of the Reformation and Civil War. He is sometimes known as the father of English hymnody.

Up until this point, only metrical psalms, using the words of the Bible, were normally sung in church. Watts’ hymns introduced a new subjective religious expression – this is reputedly the first English hymn to use the personal pronoun “I”. Contemplating the crucifixion from a personal perspective had been a common feature of medieval personal devotion, but it was a new idea to write a congregational hymn like this. Watts wrote this as a communion hymn, and it first appeared in 1707.

The tune, Rockingham, was first printed in a collection published in 1790. Apparently the hymn was earlier sung to a tune called Tunbridge, but had originally been sung to a version of Tallis’ Canon  (Glory to thee my God this night.)

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?

His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.

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 you could “survey the wondrous cross” today, what would you want to say in response?

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