Posted by: rcottrill | February 22, 2012

Cross of Jesus

Words: William John Sparrow-Simpson (b. June 20, 1859; d. Feb. 13, 1952)
Music: Cross of Jesus (or Stainer), by John Stainer (b. June 6, 1840; d. Mar. 31, 1901)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The words for this hymn come from Stainer’s oratorio, The Crucifixion, which is described on the title page as “A Meditation on the Sacred Passion of the Holy Redeemer.” It was written specifically with Good Friday in mind. What makes the work unusual is that it involves the audience, not only as listeners, but as singers. The words of this hymn, aptly titled “The Mystery of the Divine Humiliation,” are sung by all.

Of Reverend Sparrow-Simpson’s ten stanzas, hymn books often choose four-though not always the same ones. Most often I’ve seen (CH-1, 2, 3, and 4). For the third line of both CH-1 and 10, the Cyber Hymnal has “Perfect Man on thee did suffer,” while the original libretto has “Perfect Man on thee was tortured.” Both are factually correct, but I prefer the emendation.

This remarkable hymn powerfully describes and explores the “mysterious condescending” (CH-3) of God the Son, when He left heaven’s glory and was incarnated in the womb of Mary by a miracle of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:20-23). “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14). And Christ is both “perfect Man” and “perfect God” (CH. 1).

CH-1) Cross of Jesus, cross of sorrow,
Where the blood of Christ was shed,
Perfect Man on thee did suffer,
Perfect God on thee has bled!

The opening stanza marks the infinite difference between what Christ is, and has been from all eternity, and what He willingly suffered to provide for our salvation. That theme is pursued relentlessly through the hymn. It is unfortunate that the few verses chosen to be included in many hymnals miss some of the most powerful descriptions of this contrast. For example:

CH-6) Once the Lord of brilliant seraphs,
Winged with love to do His will,
Now the scorn of all His creatures,
And the aim of every ill.

CH-8) Who shall fathom that descending,
From the rainbow circled throne,
Down to earth’s most base profaning,
Dying desolate alone.

CH-9) From the “Holy, Holy, Holy,
We adore Thee, O most High,”
Down to earth’s blaspheming voices
And the shout of “Crucify.”

“Scorn” and “base profaning” by “earth’s blaspheming voices”! That describes the scene, when the Lord stood before Pilate, and later when He hung on the cross, scenes of which we read:

“And he [Pilate] said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’ But they cried out, ‘Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify Him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar!…His blood be on us and on our children’” (Jn. 19:14-15; Matt. 27:25).

“Those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, ‘He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, “I am the Son of God”’” (Matt. 27:39-44).

“But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:5-6).

1) What is your response to these amazing truths?

2) What does it mean to cultivate the mind (or attitude) of Christ, according to Philippians 2:5-8?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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