Series introduction: The title of this series comes from I Corinthians 14:15, where Paul said, “I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” I want to help you sing hymns with understanding; that is, to understand what you are singing with your mind, so that you can rejoice in what you are singing with your spirit. If you don’t understand something mentally, you cannot sing it spiritually. Understanding is the kindling that fuels worship, and I want to help pile up kindling in your heart.
The first stanza of “When I Survey” showed us that the wonder of the cross leads us to despise sin, and the second stanza revealed that the cross is our only glory, and leads us to sacrifice the “vain things” that charm us. The third stanza is different; Watts simply raises his arm and points at the cross and helps us marvel at Jesus’ love.
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?
With his first words, Watts sets us up for an expected second line, which he substitutes with an unexpected answer that reveals rich truth. What would you think he was about to say when he begins, “See, from his head, his hands, his feet”? Wouldn’t you think he was about to say something about the blood of Christ? But Watts turns from the literal to the figurative: “sorrow and love flow mingled down.”
And indeed, in Christ’s death there was great sorrow; Christ was, after all, “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3), and He bore “our sorrows” (Is. 53:4). And the cross was the place of His greatest betrayal, His greatest pain, and His greatest sorrow – not just because of Judas or the physical pain of crucifixion, but because His Father turned His face from Him when He poured out His wrath about His beloved Son for our sin. As Thomas Kelly wrote in his rich hymn, “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted,” “Many hands were raised to wound Him, / None would interpose to save; / But the deepest stroke that pierced Him / Was the stroke that Justice gave.”
But there was also love in Christ’s death. For it revealed Jesus’ great love for His Father, as He said in John 14:31: “that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do.” And it revealed Jesus’ great love for us, as Paul marvelled, saying, “I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
And what sorrow, and what love! Never before had any human being endured such agony, nor shown such love. As George Herbert put it, “Such sorrow as, if sinfull man could feel, / Or feel his part, he would not cease to kneel / Till all were melted, though he were all steel: / Was ever grief like mine?”
And what a crown! Herod, gorgeously clothed and crowned with gold, never was so beautifully arrayed as was Christ with His crown of thorns. For though it was beat onto His head in mockery, yet that day of humiliation was His day of greatest glory, where love and sorrow met, and where God’s justice and grace kissed each other. The moment of His deepest shame will be His highest glory throughout eternity, as every knee bows and as the redeemed shout, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing” (Rev. 5:12).