Isaac Watts, the ‘father of the English hymn’, takes this, one of the greatest of all English hymns, from St Paul’s words in Galatians 6: 14, ‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’. Starting with the self-confident ‘When I survey’ he moves to denial of all those things that seem so important for most of our lives . He urges us in verse 3 to ‘See’ with him not only the physical sufferings of our Saviour, but that these are his ‘sorrow and love’. The sudden splash of colour in verse 4 is no less than Christ’s blood, and his death leads us to our being dead to the world. All leads to the powerful final line, and indeed final word, where the only present we can give to such a God is the whole of ourselves, our ‘all’.
The tune has had a varied history, but has been in this form since 1790, and associated with these words since 1833. While not matching the words at every move, its rise and fall allows us to express the high points of this superb hymn.
from notes by Alan Luff © 2002