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.
Earlier this week, in one of the prayers, we paraphrased the second stanza of this hymn, which is one of more than 750 that Isaac Watts wrote. This one evokes the theology of the cross, because it stresses not what we have or do, but what Jesus has done. He died on the cross for us. All that we are or possess, our richest gain, are as nothing compared to what the prince of glory did.
In western art there are many depictions of the crucifixion. One painting that forcefully captures the essence of Watts' hymn is Matthias Gruenewald's "Crucifixion," the major part of the Isenheim Altarpiece. It was completed in 1515, on the eve of the Reformation. It depicts an emaciated Christ on an unforgiving cross. To look at Gruenewald's painting and sing Watts' hymn is to get a sense of that all-embracing sorrow and love—love so amazing, so divine.
Almighty God, your Son our Savior suffered at human hands and endured the scandal of the cross. Grant us strength, wisdom and fortitude to walk the way of the cross so that we may find life and peace. Amen.