IT’S AMAZING HOW changing the melody of a song can dramatically alter the impact of the lyrics. Although I enjoy the familiar melody of When I Survey that most of us have grown up with, the rich words of this hymn seems to come alive when the traditional Irish melody is used instead. There is something melancholic and almost haunting about the Irish melody that makes us feel the sacrifice that Christ had to endure on the cross.
At my church, we often sing this hymn on Good Friday. And every year, the song always stirs within me a tremendous appreciation for the cross. This hymn has an amazing ability to put life into hard perspective. It reminds me that next to the amazing love and sacrifice revealed on the cross, “my riches gain, I count but loss.” In other words, next to the awe-inspiring gift provided on Calvary, everything that I once considered most cherished are now rubbish in comparison. Jesus Christ is my most treasured possession!
When the movie The Passion of Christ came out, some people were turned off by the violent depiction of the crucifixion, and they didn’t understand the value of watching three hours of torture and pain. But for many Christians who are able to process this movie through “theological glasses”, they see that the suffering and torment which Christ endured were simultaneously mixed in with unimaginable love and sacrifice. During this movie, the question that repeatedly came to my mind was “Why Lord would you do this for me?” The cross was transformed from an abstract theological concept into the personal reality of God’s love, mercy, and grace. In the third verse of When I Survey, Isaac Watts writes:
See from His head, His hands, His feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did ever such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Charles Wesley was rumored to have said that he would have gladly given up all of his hymns to have written this one. I can understand why. The powerful words of this hymn have a way of melting the hardest heart and cynical mind.
If I was asked to choose a closing song for the movie The Passion of Christ, there is no question that this hymn would be it. I can imagine, as the camera pans slowly away from the cross and up towards heaven, a lone piano gently playing in the background as an Irish singer whispers the beautiful melody of this hymn.
“What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” — Philippians 3:8-11.