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.
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross by Isaac Watts, 1707
Right now in my 11th Grade Humanities class, we are studying the relationship between worldview and action. This unit is framed around evaluating the many different ways in which humans seek out truth and significance as they have come up in American history and literature. Some have sought truth through the power of reason, some, through a profound mystic connection to the natural world, some, through seizing the day and living up to their potential. Some have looked to money for happiness, others to sex, others to fame, still others to drugs. This deep-seated drive to fill our hearts is a fundamental part of who we are as human beings: we were created with eternity set in our hearts, as Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes. Mathematician Blaise Pascal expressed this longing as an “infinite abyss”, one that could only be filled by someone infinite and worthy—by God.
Alienated from God by sin, the whole story of human history has been a futile chase after all the wrong things in attempt after attempt to fill the God-sized hole in our hearts. These trifles and baubles are the vain things that charm us most, the things that clutter our lives and dull our appetite for God.
When asked to give up these bits of fool’s gold, our instinct is to clutch them all the more stubbornly. Like plaque, they cling to our hearts, and our hearts, to them. This is what makes the cross of Christ all the more wondrous—in His death, that hold is broken; in His death, our hearts are changed; in His death, we revalue everything in light of the incredible Gift we have received.
The Lenten season is a call to turn away from all those vain things. Perhaps such a prospect seems daunting, impossible even. The Lenten season is also a reminder that Christ loosened those bonds in His death on the cross. When we survey the wondrous cross, we are reminded that grace has set us free. In this, and this alone, can we boast!