Young Isaac Watts found the music in his church sadly lacking, and his father challenged him to create something better. Isaac did. His hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” has been called the greatest in the English language and has been translated into many other languages.
Watts’s worshipful third verse ushers us into the presence of Christ at the crucifixion.
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?
The crucifixion Watts describes so elegantly stands as history’s most awful moment. We do well to pause and stand with those around the cross. The Son of God strains for breath, held by crude spikes driven through His flesh. After tortured hours, a supernatural darkness descends. Finally, mercifully, the Lord of the universe dismisses His anguished spirit. An earthquake rattles the landscape. Back in the city the thick temple curtain rips in half. Graves open, and dead bodies resurrect, walking about the city (Matt. 27:51–53). These events compel the centurion who crucified Jesus to say, “Surely he was the Son of God!” (v. 54).
“The Cross reorders all values and cancels all vanities,” says the Poetry Foundation in commenting on Watts’s poem. The song could only conclude: “Love so amazing, so divine demands my soul, my life, my all.”
It is our privilege to give everything we have
to the One who gave us everything on the cross.
When the Lord Jesus Christ hung upon the cross, cosmic events accompanied by signs and wonders occurred between heaven and earth. A supernatural darkness came over the earth midday. Many theologians believe that for the first time in eternity past the fellowship between the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—was interrupted. As Christ took our sins upon Himself on the cross, His Father could not stay in fellowship with Him. An earthquake opened the tombs of some Old Testament believers, who were brought back to life. So dramatic were these events that even a Gentile, such as the Roman centurion who oversaw Jesus’s crucifixion, made a declaration of faith.