Thornleigh Seventh-day Adventist Church (Sydney, Australia)

Home > Church Family > Sermon Summaries > 21 May 2005, Dr Barry Wright - When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

21 May 2005, Dr Barry Wright

(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)

Communion Service

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

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.

This powerful communion hymn, written by Dr. Isaac Watts in the early part of the 18th century, invites us to look at the cross, and not simply to give it a hasty or casual glance but to survey it. It is important then that we understand the meaning of words because the word 'survey' means to EXAMINE, to APPRAISE, to STUDY, to INVESTIGATE and this detailed process becomes essential if we are to penetrate and understand the real meaning of the cross (Colquhoun, 1986: 39).

When Watts first published this hymn there was something different in the first two lines. This is what it said:

When I survey the wondrous cross,
Where the young Prince of glory died.

What was it that was different?  'Where the young prince of glory died.'

Two years after this was written, Watts, in response to criticism, altered the second line to its present form, but those who understood what Watts was trying to say felt the change was regrettable and unnecessary (Ibid).

We need to remember that when Jesus died on the Cross he was still a young man in His early thirties. He laid down His life while still in the full vigour of manhood. Dear friends, oft times when we are faced with the seeming tragedy of a life cut short in the service of God we ask 'Why should it happen?' Let us remember that it happened to the young Prince of Glory (Ibid).

The important thing to remember is that the value of life is measured not in length of years but in terms of achievement.

What can we learn about the 'Cross of Calvary' as we contemplate the words of this beautiful Hymn?

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.

WHAT IS THIS REALLY SAYING TO US?

When by faith we look at the crucified Son of God and recognise that He died for our sins, it should force us to reassess our scale of values. It should put to an end all of our boasting, self-satisfaction and pride (Ibid; 39,40).

My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

When he wrote this verse, Watts was thinking of the words of Paul in Philippians 3:8 where he says:

"What is more, I consider everything a loss
compared to the surpassing greatness of
knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake
I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish,
that I may gain Christ.

Paul, in these verses, was remembering his past attempts to make himself acceptable to God by his own works and merits. This was simply not good enough and, instead, he recognised his need to humble himself and pour contempt on all his pride. Instead of boasting about what he had done he was now to talk about what christ had done for him (ibid).

The cross is the one thing we may boast about.

God's saving act of supreme worth was accomplished once and for all in the death of the young prince of glory.

We glory in the cross.

This statement may appear contradictory when we realise that crucifixion in the Roman world was not only one of the most terrible but also the most shameful forms of death. The person hanging on the cross was disgraced and discredited in the eyes of all men.

Paul says that 'I glory in the cross''I am not ashamed'.
The shame is mine not his.
I have nothing to be proud of.
My only boast is that Jesus died for me.

We all need to learn to place our faith and trust in the one, who through His overwhelming love, was to become 'a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief' because 'He was wounded for our transgressions' as the prophet Isaiah had foretold in Isaiah 53:3,5).

Watts, with a touch of poetic license, gazes at the scene and sees not 'blood and water' coming from Jesus side but 'sorrow and love' and the crown of thorns upon His head, he sees as changed to a glittering monarch's crown (Ibid: 41).

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?

While it was our sin that took Jesus to the cross, it was his love for us, not the roman nails, that held him there.

In the face of all this we cannot remain indifferent can we?

We are confronted with the claims of redeeming love, which demands a response both personal and complete.

JESUS GAVE EVERYTHING TO US. WHAT ARE WE TO GIVE HIM?

Watts says that:

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.

Nature is not ours to give and even if it were, it would be too small a gift.

There is only one thing we can give and that is ourselves. This amazing love demands my soul - what I am - my essential personality, it demands my life - this is what I do, my daily work and activities and it demands my all - my gifts and talents, my wealth and possessions (Ibid: 42).

This is what the cross demands and no matter whether we respond or not, it does not alter the fact that Jesus died for us or it does not diminish the claims his love makes upon us. The choice is ours.

William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, was asked one day to reflect back on his life and to give a reason for his success. Booth Replied: GOD HAS HAD ALL THERE WAS OF ME. There have been men with greater brains than I, men with greater opportunities; but from the day I got the poor of London on my heart, and a vision of what Jesus Christ could do for [them], I made up my mind that God would have all of William Booth that there was'.

TOTAL LOVE DEMANDS TOTAL SURRENDER.

This morning, as we reflect on the cross of Calvary and the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf in this special service today, let us not only remember his death but also his resurrection and the fact that we are instructed to recall the last days of his life until He comes again (1 Cor 11:26).

My prayer today is that we recognise our need of a Saviour and the wonderful sacrifice the Lord has made for you and for me. 

Lift Him up, tis He who bids you,
Let the dying look and live;
To all weary, thirsting sinners,
Living waters will He give;

And though once meek and lowly,
Yet the Prince of heaven was He;
And the blind, who grope in darkness,
Through the blood of Christ shall see.

Lift Him up, the risen Saviour,
High amid the waiting throng;
Lift Him up, tis He that speaketh,
Now He bids you flee from wrong.

 

REFERENCES

Colquhoun, F. (1986)  Preaching on Favourite Hymns.  Oxford/London: Mowbray & Co. Ltd.

Brooks, C. L. (1985)  Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal. Warburton:  Signs Publishing Co.

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