Sharp About Your Prayers

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So Amazing, So Divine (Reprise)

March 27th, 2013 · 2 Comments · Faith and the City

Maundy Thursday, 2013

My favorite hymn writer is Isaac Watts.  Watts, a teacher, poet and pastor of meager estate, wrote over 750 hymns while serving a small London parish in the early 1700’s.  His hymnody is historically significant because rather than writing musical tunes for the psalms—which he also did, and which was primary function of church music at that time—Watts frequently set his own religious poetry to music.

The man’s poetry was (and is) sparking brilliant!

Almost everyone knows at least one of Watts’ compositions.  The most published hymn in the history of the world is “Joy to World.”  It is hard for me to imagine Christmas without trilling Watts’ concluding verse:

     He rules the world with truth and grace,

     And makes the nations prove

     The glories of His righteousness,

     And wonders of His love,
and wonders of His love,

     And wonders, wonders, of His love.

I also have an Isaac Watts hymn that I need to sing when Holy Week rolls around.  The hymn I have in mind has lyrics that are sorrowful and strong, confessional and yet surprisingly noble.  The great preacher and hymn writer Charles Wesley once said that he would give up all of the hymns he had ever written, if he could have penned this particular one.  I am speaking of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”

Watts begins by placing all who are singing at the foot of the cross:

     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.

We conclude by confessing the absolute claim that the cross of Jesus makes on us:

     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.

At first glance, this hymn, written in 1707, seems to stand in stark contrast to the upbeat Joy to the World.  Yet, over time I have come to realize that Watts’ theology is consistent.  In both cases, he focuses our attention on God’s love.

I hope you will join us this week as we travel a difficult road, surveying the wondrous cross, stooping to peer in the empty tomb, always surrounded by love, so amazing, so divine.

P.S.  Here’s a link to our Worship Schedule.  Don’t forget to bring a few blooms from your garden or the local market for the flowering of the cross on Easter morning.

P.P.S.  The American hymn writer who set Watts’ poetry in “When I Survey…” to its most familiar tune was Lowell Mason, Director of Music at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church from 1853-1860.  Mason is responsible for over 1600 hymn tunes!


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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Steve Z.No Gravatar

    I wholeheartedly concur!
    “The man’s poetry was (and is) sparking brilliant!”

    Happy Resurrection Day!

    “And just as Christ
    was raised from the dead
    by the glorious power of the Father,
    now we also may live new lives.
    Since we have been united
    with him in his death,
    we will also be raised to life as he was.”
    – Romans 6:4-5 (NLT)

  • SBJNo Gravatar

    Thanks, Steve.

    He is Risen, Indeed!