Monthly Archives: March 2014

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”watts

Text: Isaac Watts; Tune: Hamburg, Lowell Mason



“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”    Galatians 6:14

As a child, Isaac Watts was sickly and unattractive, yet he was clever beyond his years. He began the study of Latin at age four, added Greek when he was nine, French at eleven and Hebrew at thirteen.  Even as a child he showed a passion for poetry, rhyming and even everyday conversation. It is said that his serious-minded father decided to spank the rhyming nonsense out of his son. But a tearful Isaac supposedly replied,

“Oh father do some pity take, and I will no more verses make.”

Choirs and congregations rejoice to this day that Watts did not keep that promise. If he had, we wouldn’t have the thrill of singing such all-time favorites as “Oh God, Our Help in Ages Past,” “Am I a Soldier of the Cross” or “Joy to the World.”

To Watts, “the singing of God’s praise was the form of worship nearest to heaven,” and  “it’s performance the worst on earth.” When he complained to his father about the monotonous way Christians in England sang the Psalms, his father snapped back, “All right young man, you give us something better.”  The teenager accepted this challenge, and eventually wrote more than 600 hymns, earning him the title “The Father of English Hymnody.”

In his hymns, Watts takes the Word of God, and extracts its essence so that all its wisdom, beauty and comfort are set before us with simplicity and power. It’s no wonder that Congregationalist preacher James Spurgeon would have only the hymns of Isaac Watts sung in his services.

“When I Survey The Wondrous Cross” has been called “the very best hymn in the English language.” Watts paints a soul-stirring picture of Jesus’ death on the cross and the response of believers to such amazing love.


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.

Sunday’s choir anthem, arranged by Gilbert M. Martin, uses the tune Hamburg, composed by Lowell Mason, considered the “father of American hymnody.”


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Sweet Singer of Wales

Guide Me, O Thou Great JehovahSweet Singer of Wales


From Sunday’s Gospel in John 4:  “But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about,” and “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.”


William Williams, born in 1717 in Wales, was studying to become a doctor when, at the age of twenty, he heard itinerant preacher Howell Harris preach from a tombstone in a church cemetery. This “Tombstone Preacher” so touched Williams that he decided to become an evangelist and preach in every possible place.


Williams was ordained a deacon of the Established Church, but his evangelistic views kept him from being ordained a priest. Eventually he associated with the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists, who challenged him to write hymns. He responded with about 800 hymns, his first “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah.” For the wealth of hymns he produced, Williams is sometimes referred to as “the Isaac Watts of Wales.”


For forty-three years, Williams traveled nearly 100,000 miles on horseback, preaching and singing. One writer states, “He sang Wales into piety.” An accomplished vocalist, Williams has been called the “Sweet Singer of Wales.” He drew crowds of 10,000 or more, one time speaking to an estimated 80,000 people. He noted in his journal that “God strengthened me to speak so loud that most could hear.”


The tune for Williams’ text, Cwm Rhonda, was written almost 200 years later by John Hughes, a noted Welsh composer.  The text with this tune is still one of the most popular and widely-used hymns in Wales.  It is not uncommon even today for a large crowd at a public event such as a rugby match to burst into the spontaneous singing of this hymn.


Guide me, O thou great Jehovah, pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but thou art mighty; hold me with thy powerful hand.
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven,
Feed me till I want no more.  Feed me till I want no more.


Open now the crystal fountain whence the healing stream doth flow.
Let the fire and cloudy pillar lead me all my journey through.
Strong deliverer, strong deliverer,
Be thou still my strength and shield.  Be thou still my strength and shield.


When I tread the verge of Jordan, bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of deaths, and hell’s destruction, land me safe on Canaan’s side:
Songs of praises, songs of praises
I will ever give to thee.  I will ever give to thee.





Related Trivia: This hymn was sung at the funeral of Princess Diana.



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Music during Lent – Wondrous Love


wondrousMusic During Lent – March 16


” For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,

so that everyone who believes in him may not perish

but may have eternal life.”  

John 3:16


Chime Choir Prelude arranged by Susan E. Geschke

Hymn 85


“What Wondrous Love Is This” is an American folk hymn, often described as a “white spiritual.”  The anonymous text was first published in Lynchburg, Virginia in the 1811 camp meeting songbook, A General Selection of the Newest and Most Admired Hymns and Spiritual Songs Now in Use.


Most sources attribute the hymn’s melody to the 1701 English song, “The Ballad of Captain Kidd,” which describes the exploits of pirate William Kidd. The melody predates this, however, possibly by more than a century.  Text and melody were first paired in the mid-1800s in The Southern Harmony, a book of shape-note hymns compiled by William Walker.


Today WONDROUS LOVE is a widely-known hymn included in hymnals of many Christian denominations, and one of the most popular sung during the Lenten season.


What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the heavy cross for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the heavy cross for my soul.


To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb, I will sing.
To God and to the Lamb who is the great I Am;
While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing;
While millions join the theme, I will sing.


And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on.


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Ash Wednesday – March 5


Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right
spirit within me.

Psalm 51:10



In our hymns for Ash Wednesday, we move from

  • · confessing our sins (“Sunday’s Palms are Wednesday’s Ashes”);
  • · to requesting strength to conquer our sins (“Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days”);
  • · to offering our lives – hands, feet, voice, money, intellect, will, and love – to God (“Take My Life”).


Sunday’s Palms are Wednesday’s Ashes

Rae E. Whitney is a widely published author of over five hundred hymns. Her texts are characterized by rich Biblical imagery, liturgical reference, and her personal faith. In this hymn (2138 in our hymnal supplement, Sing the Faith), the first line recalls the custom of burning remaining palms of the previous year to form the ashes.  Notice, especially in the 2nd and 3rd stanzas, Whitney courageously lists specific sins in the first 3 lines, and prays for forgiveness in the 4th line:


Sunday’s palms are Wednesday’s ashes as another Lent begins;
thus we kneel before our Maker in contrition for our sins.
We have marred baptismal pledges, in rebellion gone astray;
now, returning, seek forgiveness; grant us pardon, God, this day!


We have failed to love our neighbors, their offenses to forgive,
have not listened to their troubles, nor have cared just how they live,
we are jealous, proud, impatient, loving overmuch our things;
may the yielding of our failings be our Lenten offerings.

We are hasty to judge others, blind to proof of human need;
and our lack of understanding demonstrates our inner greed;
we have wasted earth’s resources; want and suffering we’ve ignored;
come and cleanse us, then restore us; make new hearts within us, Lord!


B. F. White’s tune BEACH SPRING was named after the Beech Spring Baptist Church, located near two beech trees at a spring in Pine Mountain, Georgia. White’s misspelling, “Beach Spring,” has been kept in all editions of The Sacred Harp, where the tune first appeared.  A five-note or pentatonic melody, BEACH SPRING is the setting to several hymns texts in recent major hymnals.


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