When I Survey The Wondrous Cross
To the churches in Galatia, the apostle Paul wrote that Christians were not obliged to observe the requirements of Mosaic Law, neither should they glory in performing these rituals. Then Paul exclaimed, “but God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14).
Inspired by these words, Isaac Watts wrote the hymn. He captures the essence of Paul’s admonition to the Galatian churches in the first two stanzas. The hymn climaxes with a statement of commitment; such amazing love “demands my soul, my life, my all.” Throughout the English-speaking world it is recognized as one of the greatest hymns of all time.
The use of the word “survey” in the opening line implies more than mere looking. Watts suggests contemplation, an awareness of the real significance of the cross. Rather than using an expected adjective such as cruel, tragic, or rugged, Watts describes the cross as wondrous. Such graphic language reminds us that an instrument of cruel torture and death became God’s wondrous instrument for man’s salvation.