Category Archives: Issac Watts (Hymn Writer)

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross – Responsive Reading

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross – Responsive Reading

One thing that I like to do is to read a great hymn text, responsively in worship, with the scripture text that has inspired it.   Here’s an example using “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”  It could also be done with singing instead of speaking.

Pastor:  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:2
Worship Leader #1:      All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. – Isaiah 64:6
Worship Leader #2:      What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ – Philippians 3:8
Congr Speaks: 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.

Pastor:  May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. – Galatians 6:14
Worship Leader: Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. – Colossians 3:2
Congr. Speaks: 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.

Pastor:  Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. – John 15:13
Congr. Speaks: 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?

Pastor:  Then he said to them all: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. – Luke 9:23
Congr. Speaks: Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were an offering far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all!

For the record, there is an additional verse written by Isaac Watts that has been lost through the years.  Here it is:

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

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.  Used by permission of International Bible Society

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (Isaac Watts meets Chris Tomlin)


Isaac Watts was born in 1674 in Southampton England.  “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” is thought, by many, to be the greatest hymn ever written. 

The eldest of nine children, he was the son of an educated deacon in a dissenting Congregational church.  At the time of Isaac’s birth, his father was in prison for his non-conformist beliefs.  Young Watts showed an unusual aptitude for study and learned Latin at the age of five, Greek at nine, French at eleven and Hebrew at thirteen.  He began to write verses of good quality when he was very young.  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.  The singing consisted of slow, ponderous Psalms in which each line was first read by an appointed deacon and was followed by the droning of the congregation.  Watts was a revolutionary producing “futuristic music” for his time.  Because of this bold departure from the traditional Psalms, Isaac Watts was often considered to be a radical churchman.  Watts not only rewrote the Psalms in this way, but he also wrote a number of hymns based solely on personal feelings.  These hymns were known as hymns of human composure.  Such hymns were very controversial during his lifetime.  “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” is an example of this type of hymn written by Watts.  It’s the first known hymn to be written in the first person, introducing a personal religious experience rather than limiting itself to doctrine.


Isaac Watts, and his hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” helped to reshape the future of church music as we know it today.  Mr. Watts would have been proud to know that Chris Tomlin is continuing his tradition.


The words of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” tell a wonderful story.  They tell of the paradoxical beauty of sacrifice.  They tell a story of pain and suffering woven together with joy and love.  Who would have ever thought that these polar opposites could come together and form a paradoxical statement that on the face of it sounds ridiculous, but when taken to heart and pondered makes so much sense that even the simplest of minds can understand it?


The lost Verse:


Watts, actually wrote 5 verses but one has been dropped through the years (including in our hymnal).  Here’s is the missing verse (it’s actually meant to be the fourth verse):


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



Born and raised in East Texas, Chris Tomlin grew up on a steady diet of country music, learning his guitar style by playing along with Willie Nelson records.  Not that you would ever guess it from listening to the gentle smoothness of his vocals.

“I love the simplicity of drums, bass, electric and acoustic guitars,” Chris explains. “We’re not about putting on a big show. We don’t want to be rock stars. We’re about connecting with people and having a shared experience of coming before God and worshipping Him.

Credited with venerable church choruses such as “Forever,” “We Fall Down,” and “The Wonderful Cross,” Tomlin is considered one of this era’s top songwriters. With millions singing his songs weekly, Chris is recognized as a pivotal voice of today’s modern expression of Christian worship.  Yet, Tomlin has masterminded several remakes of classic hymns including Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) and “Take My Life and Let it Be.”

Here is the chorus that Chris Tomlin added:


Oh the wonderful cross, Oh the wonderful cross

Bids me come, and die, and find

That I may truly live.

Oh the wonderful cross, Oh the wonderful cross

All who gather here, by grace,

Draw near and bless Your name.

CCLI Song No. 3148435 © 2000 songsSix Steps Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)(Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing) Chris Tomlin / Isaac Watts / J. D. Walt / Jesse Reeves

The scriptural reference to “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” is Galatians 6:14.


May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. – NIV


Tomlin’s chorus draws from Gal 2:20:


I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – NIV


You can listen to Tomlin’s version here (with a little help from Matt Redman):

Want to give this new version a try this year?  Here’s a few places that sell the sheet music in digital form (can be downloaded instantly):

Here’s a free pdf of the lead sheet (no piano notation):

Here’s piano/vocal/guitar music for $3.99:

You can also download a nicely done MIDI file of this arrangement for free here:

     Listen to it here:

     Download the file by scrolling down to “Wonderful Cross” (right mouse, save target as) here:

     Or, you can download it from my file download area (lower right hand column of this BLOG page).

Information Sources:

1.  Isaac Watts Bio – and other internet sources

2.  Chris Tomlin Bio – and other internet sources

3.  Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.  Used by permission of International Bible Society

 Please report song usage to CCLI if you have such a license.  The song number for “the Wonderful Cross” is #3148435.

God our Shepherd

God our Shepherd

The Lord my Shepherd is,

I shall be well supplied;

Since he is mine and I am his,

What can I want beside?

He leads me to the place

Where heav’nly pasture grows,

Where living waters gently pass,

And full salvation flows.

if e’er I go astray,

He doth my Soul reclaim;

And guides me in his own right way,

For his most holy name.

While he affords his aid

I cannot yield to fear;

Though I should walk through death’s dark shade,

My Shepherd’s with me there.

In sight of all my foes,

Thou dost my table spread;

My cup with blessings overflows,

And joy exalts my head.

The bounties of thy love

Shall crown my following days;

Nor from thy house will I remove,

Nor cease to speak thy praise.

(Psalm 23 – Metrical Version by Isaac Watts)


The following is from “The Psalms and Hymns of Isaac Watts”



L. M.

To God the Father, God the Son,

And God the Spirit, Three in One,

Be honor, praise, and glory giv’n,

By all on earth, and all in heav’n.



C. M.

Let God the Father, and the Son,

And Spirit, be adored,

Where there are works to make him known,

Or saints to love the Lord.




C. M.

The God of mercy be adored,

Who calls our souls from death;

Who saves by his redeeming word,

And new-creating breath.

To praise the Father, and the Son,

And Spirit, all divine,

The One in Three, and Three in One,

Let saints and angels join.




S. M.

Ye angels round the throne,

And saints that dwell below,

Worship the Father, praise the Son,

And bless the Spirit too.




Now to the great and sacred Three,

The Father, Son, and Spirit, be

Eternal praise and glory giv’n,

Through all the worlds where God is known,

By all the angels near the throne,

And all the saints in earth and heav’n.




To God the Father’s throne

Perpetual honors raise,

Glory to God the Son,

To God the Spirit praise:

With all our powers,

Eternal King,

Thy name we sing,

While faith adores.