Forgotten Verses #3: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

Isaac Watts is counted as the father of English-language hymn-writing, and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” is usually acknowledged as his greatest work. In fact, Charles Wesley, another person who would stand shoulder to shoulder with Watts on any top-five list of greatest English-language hymn-writers, reportedly commented that he would have given up every other hymn he had ever written if he could have written this one.

To the credit of the arrangers behind this stunningly magnificent arrangement, the Gaither Vocal Band included all four of the verses we commonly find in hymnals today. But Watts’ original included five verses. Thanks to incredible work of the team behind Google Books’ scanning project, we can see the hymn in its original typesetting, here.

The original verses three to five read:

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?

His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.

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.


Now, granted, if we were in a position where we could only choose the strongest four verses, we would probably pick the four we sing today. But the original verse four provides a really nice glue to tie together the verses it follows and precedes. In verse three, we’re looking at the Cross. As we’re used to singing the song, the scene suddenly changes to looking at the whole realm of nature. But look at what this verse four accomplishes: The first two lines are still looking at the cross. “Then I am dead to all the globe / And all the globe is dead to me” is the transition that sets the stage for “Were the whole realm of nature mine.”

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4 Letters to the Editor

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  1. What a marvelous read this morning, Daniel! No false rhymes for Mr. Watts!! OH, how I love the grand hymns and the language in which they are written! I keep using exclamation points in this post…but it is appropriate. I think we as God’s children should survey the wondrous cross continuously in our daily lives…lest we lose sight of all Jesus suffered there, and what we GAINED. Praise Him, praise Him, Jesus our Blessed Redeemer!

    • What can I say but AMEN! 🙂

  2. I am with Daniel!! All I can say is AMEN!!!

  3. It is so easy to see why the great Charles Wesley thought so highly of this hymn, it is a great hymn. It is one of my favourites. I especially love the last line of the last verse, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” What great realisation! There is no other better word to describe the cross than “love.” No wonder the bible simply says God is love. It was love that lead Him to the cross, love for me.

    The bronze serpent that Moses lifted up symbolised the defeat of sin and it’s founder the devil, Christ brought that symbolism and prophecy into fluition when He was lifted up, when type met anti-type. The woman’s seed was bruised at the heel by the serpent, but praise God the serpent’s head was crushed by the woman’s seed! If we, like the children of israel did when they were bitten by the poisonous snakes, cast our gaze upon the cross and survey it, that wondrous cross, life will be ours. For there on the cross is love, so amazing, so divine; love that found us – wondrous thought, found us when we sought Him not. Love that really demands our souls, our lives, our all. Beautiful song, and nice post Daniel!