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.”