Posted by: rcottrill | September 23, 2013

O Christ, What Burdens Bowed Thy Head

Words: Anne Ross Cundell Cousin (b. Apr. 27, 1824; d. Dec. 6, 1906)
Music: Substitution, by Ira David Sankey (b. Aug. 28, 1840; d. Aug. 13, 1908)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Anne Cundell was the daughter of a medical doctor in England, Dr. David Cundell. She married William Cousin, a Presbyterian pastor in Scotland. Mrs. Cousin wrote a great deal of poetry, including her better known hymn Immanuel’s Land (“The sands of time are sinking…”)

Ira Sankey loved her hymn O Christ, What Burdens Bowed Thy Head, and wrote a tune for it. On the Cyber Hymnal page are found two touching incidents from Mr. Sankey, relating to the song–which he called “a hymn very much blessed.” Though the tune Substitution works for the hymn, I believe the other suggested by the Cyber Hymnal, Consolation (Ulster) is even better.

The hymn, though it deals with deep theological issues, has a simple formula. Each of the original six stanzas follows this pattern:

Because Christ did this for me,
I enjoy this blessing.

Substitution, the name Mr. Sankey chose for his melody, summarizes the point made so emphatically by the hymn. It rehearses the infinite value of the substitutionary death of Christ.

“I declare to you the gospel…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (I Cor. 15:1-4). “Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree” (I Pet. 2:24).

He took our place on the cross and, through faith in Him, wonderful blessings come to us. As the hymn begins, we are told that the Lord Jesus took our heavy burden of sin upon Himself. “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). Because of that, through faith in Christ, the load is lifted from the soul.

CH-1) O Christ, what burdens bowed Thy head!
Our load was laid on Thee;
Thou stoodest in the sinner’s stead,
Didst bear all ill for me.
A Victim led, Thy blood was shed;
Now there’s no load for me.

The second stanza brings to mind the scene in the garden of Gethsemane, when Christ faced the abhorrent cup. Though He cringed at the thought, Jesus accepted the cup, in submission to the will of God the Father (Matt. 26:36-39). Now, as a result, our cup is a cup of blessing, instead of a curse.

CH-2) Death and the curse were in our cup:
O Christ, ’twas full for Thee;
But Thou hast drained the last dark drop,
’Tis empty now for me.
That bitter cup, love drank it up;
Now blessing’s draught for me.

With stanza three we are back once more in Isaiah. “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” (Isa. 53:5). Peter sees in that the Saviour’s sacrifice, “by whose stripes you were healed” (I Pet. 2:24). In the words of Mrs. Cousin, “Jehovah lifted up His rod….Thy bruising healeth me.”

CH-3) Jehovah lifted up His rod;
O Christ, it fell on Thee!
Thou wast sore stricken of Thy God;
There’s not one stroke for me.
Thy tears, Thy blood, beneath it flowed;
Thy bruising healeth me.

Finally, the hymn ends with an allusion to Galatians 2:20, and perhaps Colossians 3:3 as well: “You died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Anne Cousin captures the twin realities of the believer’s eternal position (or standing), and his practical condition (or state) in daily life.

I in Christ is my legal position. I am clothed in His righteousness (Gal. 3:27), and thus freed from condemnation. Through my union with Christ, I shall share His glory and, with all the saints, eternally live “to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:12, 14; Col. 3:4; I Pet. 5:1).

Christ in me is my practical condition, empowered to live out His life by the indwelling Spirit of God. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

CH-6) For me, Lord Jesus, Thou hast died,
And I have died in Thee!
Thou’rt ris’n—my hands are all untied,
And now Thou liv’st in me.
When purified, made white and tried,
Thy glory then for me!

1) Can you make a list of blessings represented by this hymn that are ours because Christ died for us?

2) What other hymns do you know that clearly teach Christ’s substitutionary death for us, and our position in Him?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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