In my last post, I wrote about John Stott, and his belief in the doctrine of the atonement as central to our Christian faith. Some theologians today wish to downplay Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, even going so far as to call it “divine child abuse.” (this reveals an improper understanding of the trinity, but that’s for another day). Seems like many hymnists over the years disagree with this viewpoint, because there is an abundance of Christian songs which celebrate the cross.
Isaac Watts wrote one of them in 1707 — When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. Watts is known as the father of English hymnody. He broke tradition by publishing a book of hymns. Most English churches at that time used only the Old Testament Psalms in public worship, but Watts believed that Christians should be able to celebrate all the aspects of the gospel proclaimed in the New Testament as well. Below is a quote from the preface of Hymns and Spiritual Songs, in which he defends his view:
“Many Ministers and many private Christians have long groaned under this Inconvenience, and have wished rather than attempted a Reformation: At their importunate and repeated Requests I have for some Years past devoted many Hours of leisure to this Service. Far be it from my Thoughts to lay aside the Psalms of David in public Worship; few can pretend so great a Value for them as my self . . . But it must be acknowledged still, that there are a thousand Lines in it which were not made for a Saint in our Day, to assume as his own; There are also many deficiencies of Light and Glory which our Lord Jesus and his Apostles have supplied in the Writings of the New Testament; and with this Advantage I have composed these spiritual Songs which are now presented to the World.”
And here is his famous hymn about the wondrous cross:
For more hymns by Isaac Watts: