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.
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.
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?
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.
Isaac Watts wrote "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" in preparation for a communion service in 1707. Originally, the hymn was named "Crucifixion to the World by the Cross of Christ," following the practice of the day to summarize a hymn's theme in the title. It was first published in 1707 in Watt's collection Hymns and Spiritual Songs.
Watts wrote five stanzas for the original version of "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross." However, he put his fourth stanza in brackets, indicating it was the most likely one to be left out, if need be:
"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."
Other alterations have been made to this hymn through the years. For example, line 2 originally read "Young Prince of Glory," but in the second edition of the hymnal, Watts changed it to "When God, the Mighty Maker, died." It has also been "When Christ, the Lord of Glory, died," "When Christ, the Great Redeemer, died," and "When Christ, the Great Creator, died." In the nineteenth century there were numerous collections with extensive alterations to the hymn.
"When I Survey The Wondrous Cross" is considered one of the finest hymns ever written. It's the first known hymn to be written in the first person, introducing a personal religious experience rather than limiting itself to doctrine.
In Watts' day such hymns were termed "hymns of human composure" and they stirred up great controversy. At the time, congregational singing was predominately ponderous repetitions of the Psalms. But this hymn gave Christians of Watts' day a way to express a deeply personal gratitude to their Savior. The well-loved song continues to stir our hearts today.
(from the website of The Center For Church Music, Songs & Hymns)