When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

         How often I have sung these lyrics and
never looked beyond the meaning and the heart of the writer…”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.”
         Isaac Watts. Who was he and why should
we sing his words? In our age of wanting only what is new and the latest, what
could a lad, born the 17th day of July in 1674, have for me? It is said,
if we don’t know a person’s heart, we doubt and distrust.
         Reading from several sources, I began
to understand the depth and thinking of this boy and his heart for Jesus as he
grew to manhood.  He loved rhyming words
when young and he enjoyed books and reading. 
When he was six, he made some verses and when his mother saw them she
could not believe he had written them.
         I-am a vile
polluted lump of earth
         S-o I’ve continu’d ever
since my birth
         A-lthough Jehovah grace
does daily give me
         A-ssure this monster Satan
will deceive me
         C-ome, therefore, Lord,
from Satan’s claws relieve me.
me in thy blood, O Christ
         A-nd grace divine impart
         T-hen search and try the
corners of my heart
         T-hat I in all things may
be fit to do
         S-ervice to thee, and sing
thy praises too
         Isaac grew up without the ‘benefits’ of
today’s children, who take electronic gadgets as their world. Isaac grew up in
a thinking world of words.  His father
told all his children to find joy in Scripture. 
Isaac learned Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and French.  He didn’t have to run for an English/Hebrew
dictionary when he read the scripture – he knew the scriptures in the original
language it was written. This is called a classical education.
         His father was incarcerated twice for
being a nonconformist, that is, he did not ascribe to all the teaching of the
Church of England.  Isaac’s world had
some narrowness in ability to attend some universities because of his Father’s
choices.  He was unable to attend Oxford
or Cambridge, so attended the Dissenting Academy in 1690.  Later Isaac Watts helped train preachers,
despite his continuing poor health. He had an interest in promoting education
and scholarship than preaching for any particular group. 
         At that time the only singing in
services were the Psalms and Scripture. Isaac told his father he did not enjoy
singing these staid hymns.  His father
challenged him to write better ones. 
Isaac did – and ended up writing 750 hymns, and became known as the
Father of Hymns.  He grew up, often sick,
and this added time for thinking.  He was
unable to preach in the Church of England, and became a non-conformist pastor
like his father. There was little distinction between Catholic and Church of
England teachings.  He was the pastor of
a small non-conformist church in a small village. 
         One of my favorite Christmas carols, Joy to the World, is written by Isaac
Watts. The music was adapted from a Bach melody by Lowell Mason.  Each time I sing this hymn, I wonder why such
a joyous song is only sung at Christmas time. 
Then I learned – according to the lyrics, written in 1719, there is no
mention of shepherds, manger, the star or the Baby Jesus is to be found.  It was written for the Second Coming of
Christ.  Reading the lyrics and you will
soon see the essence of Psalm 98:8-9 –
Let the rivers clap their hands in

the hills sing out their songs of joy before the
Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with
and the nations with fairness.
         The lyrics Isaac Watts wrote: Joy to the world, the Lord has come, Let
earth receive her King, Let every heart prepare Him room – And Heaven and
nature sing, And Heaven and nature sing, And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature
         The lyrics of the songs Isaac Watts
wrote and reflect the Christian experience we live here on earth. Many of the
hymns are not sung, but I find fifteen in the hymnal.  Come,
We That Love Thee Lord, O God, Our Help in Ages Past, I Sing the Mighty Power
of God, Joy to the World, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, At the Cross, Alas!
And Did My Savior Bleed? and We’re Marching to Zion.
         Two hundred years before Isaac Watts
was born, Martin Luther, another hymn writer and nonconformist was born in
Germany, in 1483 and died in 1546. Did Isaac Watts know of Martin Luther?  Have you ever wondered why God places us in a
certain place on the earth and in certain era? 
Two men unknown to each other, and yet they impacted the world by not
following the culture to which they were born. 
They both were led of God to the works He planned for them.  They both were given extraordinary gifts and
prepared to give the fruit of God’s gifts to us, centuries later.  One of the lines from Alas, And Did My Savior Bleed, comes these
words… “here, Lord, I give myself away, ‘Tis
all that I can do
         Did Isaac Watts remember Samuel?  When the Lord spoke to Samuel, he simply
“Speak, for your servant hears.” (I Samuel 3:10b) The
question is, do we listen, do we hear Him, or does our busy living snuff out
that dear Voice? It doesn’t matter what others do – it is what God does that
matters. It is not the number of ‘likes’ from the world that will go with us
into eternity.  It is the precious Love
of God that never fails, the same yesterday today and tomorrow; He will see us
through the greatest heartaches and disappointments on earth.
         For we are his workmanship, created in Christ
Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should
walk in them.
Ephesians 2:10
         I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart;
will tell of all the marvelous things you have done.

will be filled with joy because of you.
will sing praises to your name, O Most High
.  Psalm 9:1-2
         Praise the Lord! For
he has heard my cry for mercy.
The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart.  He helps me, and my heart is
filled with joy.
burst out in songs of thanksgiving.
The Lord gives his people strength. He is a safe fortress for his anointed king. 
Psalm 28:6-8

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