In case you have not yet gotten the memo, we are not memorizing ‘When I Survey’ in order to get a golden star for Sunday school or to join the inner circle of inflated egos. We are doing it in hopes of drawing close enough to the cross that its sparks can fall on the dry kindling of our hearts and ignite a blazing fire of devotion. Discipleship without devotion is like a car without gasoline. If there is no internal combustion, the wheels of spiritual discipline will never turn, especially if the road is uphill. Thus we need to acknowledge the importance of what has been labeled captivation. Serious discipleship begins with the eyes of the heart being opened to the unique worth of the glory of God. Where do we go to behold this glory? The last post described the importance of meditating on holiness. Now we must turn to the cross.
A Sight We Are Unworthy to Behold
More than one trustworthy old divine has made the point that, in saving us, God orchestrated our redemption so that it would be both effective and beautiful. Such is the wondrous power of the cross: the cross not only does away with sin and all of its consequences, it also melts the stubbornness of sin so that our hearts become as soft and supple as clay. That the immortal God would cloth himself with human flesh in order to die a slave’s death for criminals is a plot that no mystic or artist could devise. Why would the Holy One submit to being treated like a sacrificial lamb? What does he stand to gain from such a humiliating venture? The only answer is us. He loves us and wants our love in return.
Anyone who appreciates the unexpectedness of the cross cannot but have his heart turned inside out. In one sense the cross is the emblem of justice because there the penalty of sin is fully paid. But in another sense nothing is more unfair than the cross. The God before whom angels shield their eyes was publically ridiculed that transgressors might be adopted into His family. The God who measures the universe by the breadth of His hand was encompassed by the womb of a virgin so that our sin could be nailed to His tree. The Eternal Sun who dwells in inapproachable light was eclipsed by death so that those who were destined for darkness could experience an endless day. To see this is to wonder; to wonder is to worship; and to worship is to lay down our lives in joyful surrender before the one who exchanged his blessing for our curse.
The Mechanics of Heart Change
It is worth knowing that there is a lost fourth stanza of ‘When I Survey’ which contains all of the richness of imagery of the rest of the hymn, but for some reason has been neglected and forgotten. It goes like this,
His dying crimson like a robe
Spreads o’er his body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.
In truth, this stanza provides a vital link between the observation of the third stanza and the moment of surrender in the fifth. In the third stanza we are drawing close to the cross. The hymn says, ‘See from his head, his hands, his feet/sorrow and love flow mingled down.’ Here we are close enough to the cross that, as John Stott says, its sparks are falling on us. But the moment of transformation has not yet occurred. Our hearts are being drawn in, but they are not yet captivated. We see light shimmering from the broken form of Jesus, but the light has not so violently erupted that the ground is swept from under our feet.
The forgotten fourth stanza recounts the irresistible moment of change. Bedazzled by the beauty of the love of Christ, before we do anything, something is done to us. We die – not physically, but spiritually. The world is like a giant carnival that is suddenly unplugged. The lights fade and the noise stops. In a flash, values and priorities topple like a tower of wooden blocks. An insuppressible desire surges to shout out with Paul, ‘God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world’ (Gal. 6:14). We are new men with new hearts living for new purposes.
And this leaves us at the threshold of the final stanza of the hymn. To see the love of Christ results in more than feeling; it results in self-sacrifice. The more we appreciate what he gave up for us, the more we long to be spent for him. We are captivated. With Watts, we profess,
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.
Questions for Small Groups/Self-Reflection
1. In Psalm 63 we read that God’s love is ‘better than life’ (vs. 3). What do you think the Psalmist means by this? What does the cross teach us about the true value of God’s love?
2. In Galatians 6:14 Paul writes, ‘But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ What do you think it means to boast in the cross of Jesus?
3. In the same verse (Gal. 6:14) Paul goes on to say, ‘The world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.’ How does the cross make it possible for us to die to the world? What do you think it means to die to the world?
4. In Philippians 1:14 Paul says, ‘To live is Christ, and to die is gain’. What do you think Paul means by saying, ‘To live is Christ’?