When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

Pride and joyMy Uncle Bob is a big fisherman. He is an even bigger jokester. When I was a kid, I would sometimes overhear him talk about fishing with another adult. He would inevitably turn the conversation to the biggest fish they ever caught. Then my Uncle Bob would say, “Hey do you want to see a picture of my pride and joy?”

He would then open up his wallet and pull out a picture. It wasn’t the picture of a fish, though. It was the picture of a bottle of Pride furniture polish next to a bottle of Joy dishwashing detergent. My uncle’s pride and joy.

He loved that joke.

You could say that, for Isaac Watts, hymns were his pride and joy. He loved poetry. He loved music. He also loved God and church. But the worship in the Church of England at the time frustrated him. You see, in Watts’ day, the only music which could be sung in church were the Psalms from the Old Testament.

Now don’t get me wrong. Isaac Watts loved the Psalms. He was frustrated because he also wanted to sing about Jesus and the fulfillment of those Psalms in the New Testament. So he decided to do something about – something which would have been shocking in the Church of England at the time. He wrote a hymnal. He composed hymns about Jesus and how he saved us. He took the Psalms and wrote hymns about how they were fulfilled in Christ.

In his lifetime, Isaac Watts wrote over 750 hymns. You may have heard of some: “Joy to the World”; “O God, Our Help in Ages Past”; “My Shepherd will Supply My Need”; “Jesus Shall Reign and Ere the Sun.” Isaac Watts is properly called the “Father of English Hymnody.” In fact, if it weren’t for Isaac Watts, we wouldn’t have the hymnals we have in English.

You could say that hymns were Isaac Watts’ pride and joy. You could say that, but you would be wrong. In 1707, Isaac Watts wrote a hymn about his pride and joy. It became his most famous hymn. Some historians call it the greatest hymn ever written:

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.

When Isaac Watts looked at Jesus’ cross – when he saw what God had accomplished for him – he realized that everything he had accomplished in his life, everything that the world considered important and impressive, actually meant nothing.

As Americans, we take so much pride in all the great things we accomplish as individuals and as a nation. As we look at our homes and families, our chests swell. We did this. We built this with our own two hands.

Yet, we didn’t do any of it. Who gave you the ability? Who gave you the opportunity and means? Or do you really believe that our success as Americans is because we are innately smarter and harder working than people who live in third world countries? Everything we are and everything we have is because of God’s grace.

Look honestly at all you’ve really accomplished – the people you have hurt, the jobs you have left undone, the damage you have caused with your sins and mistakes and pride. We have nothing to be proud of – nothing to brag about except one thing.

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.

Isaac Watts’ pride and joy was his Savior Jesus who died so that he might live. When he surveyed Jesus’ wondrous cross, he realized everything he had accomplished was meaningless. It couldn’t save him from the hell he deserved. The only thing that matter – the only thing he could brag about – was his God’s great love for him.

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?

If you think about it, it’s a strange thing of which to be proud: a cross, a crown of thorns, a man bleeding and dying. Yet that blood washes us of all our failings. It washes us of our foolish pride. It washes us clean.

That wondrous cross changes how we look at everything. Now it’s not what I have accomplished; it’s what God has accomplished through me. Now it’s not what I have earned, but what God has given me. When I survey the wondrous cross, I realize that nothing in this world matters. I am willing to give it all up. I am willing to give it all away.

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.

Next Friday – on Good Friday – we are going to sit and stare at the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died. As you do, take a few moments to honestly look at your life. What is your pride and joy? What is most important to you?

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