Day 5

When I Survey The Wondrous Cross

from the Hymns III reading plan


Matthew 27:27-50, Philippians 3:7-11, Galatians 6:11-16, Isaiah 53

BY Amanda Bible Williams


Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

I once performed the hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” in Notre Dame Cathedral. Yes, it was just to the tourists who happened to be present. And yes, it was freezing in there, so our choir wore big, winter coats and shivered our way through the stanzas. But it was one of the most stunning, cherished experiences of my college life. The majesty of that place and the splendor of this song collided to create a moment I will never forget. (It didn’t even matter that I’m not much of a singer!)

Our choir director was a petite German man whom we referred to with enormous affection as “Dr. B.” Dr. B had a way of bringing out the best in us—not just our best sound, but our best selves. He taught us to hold our words with reverence, to form our vowels with care, and to never draw out our S’s or mumble our O’s.

Words like “cross” and “sorrow” and “demands” (sung “dih-mahnds”, with a heavy “d” and jaw dropped to the floor on the “ah”) somehow held more worship when directed by Dr. B, his arms moving sharply with the rhythm, eyes wide with calm intensity, and white hair flipped back in distinguished whimsy. He taught us to recognize the weight of the lyric we were singing and communicate it appropriately.

We weren’t just singing songs when we stood up in front of this small, powerful man. We were taking the melodies and lyrics carefully in, then offering them up to a beauty-starved world. We were doing important work and our perfect posture was proof that we knew it.

I think of that time, now so many years ago, and I wonder—Do I faithfully regard the cross of Christ with as much reverence now as I sang it with then, from the rehearsal room risers to faraway cathedral walls? Do I hold the reality of those words in my heart as carefully and diligently as they deserve, with no mumbling, no air of flippancy? The honest answers to these questions cause me to bow down low, confessing my sin, “pouring contempt on all my pride” like the old hymn says.

But the glorious cross of Jesus does not leave me there in guilt of my sin. The same Savior who reveals the depth of my need fulfills it by His mercy and love. The Cross that begs my confession is the Cross that lifts my head to salvation.

Our college choir ended every performance with this hymn. No matter the occasion or the other songs we sang, we always left it here—beholding the Prince of Glory’s wondrous cross.

Sisters, by God’s grace, let’s do the same. Let’s spend our days in awe of the suffering Savior who poured Himself out for us. With careful words and reverent hands, may we proclaim the amazing and divine love of Jesus, our richest gain. And when our show is over, be it days or decades from now, may it have been always and ultimately about that wondrous Cross.


When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
Isaac Watts, 1707

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 a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

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Post Comments (69)

69 thoughts on "When I Survey The Wondrous Cross"

  1. Joy says:

    14 But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world.! Love this! <3

  2. Elizabeth says:

    I thought it was so interesting how the scripture talked about how Jesus looked. He wasn’t an attractive person because He was carrying everything that was wrong with us! His entire life was about us, not just his death! I’ve never really thought of it that way.

  3. Rachel says:

    I boast no more, my God. You’re sacrifice is so amazing!

  4. Abigail says:

    Truly amen!

  5. Tiffany says:

    My boyfriend and I needed to hear this today. Both of us as a couple have been being tempted by the Devil a whole lot lately and sometimes we fall into his traps. When we do we know that we are guilty and immediately pray and be hunble, but even though we know God forgave us we still feel guilty. Hearing this devotional let me know that it is finished.

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