When I Survey The Wondrous Cross

Author – Isaac Watts, 1674 – 1748
Music – From a Gregorian Chant
Arranged – Lowell Mason, 1792-1872

Galatians 6:14 – But God forbid that I should boast save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world was been crucified to me, and I to the world.

This hymn by Isaac Watts, labeled by the well-known theologian Matthew Arnold as the greatest hymn in the English language, was written in 1707 for use at a communion service conducted by Watts. Its original title was “Crucifixion to the World by the Cross of Christ”. The tune for the text is known as the “Hamburg” tune. It was the work of Lowell Mason, who was often called the father of American public school and church music. Mason stated that he arranged this tune in 1824 from an ancient Gregorain chant, the earliest church music known. Charles Wesley reportedly said he would give up all his other hymns to have written this one.

Watts is frequently referred to as the father of English hymnody. One of his early concerns was the deplorable state to which congregational singing had degenerated in most English-speaking churches. One Sunday after returning from a typically poor service, Watts continued to rail against the congregational singing. His father exclaimed, “Why don’t you give us something better, young man!” Before the evening service began, young Isaac had written his first hymn. For a period of two years Watts wrote a new hymn every Sunday. He composed more than 600 hymns including “Jesus Shall Reign, “O God, Our Help In Ages Past” and “Joy To The World”.