WHEN I survey the wondrous cross
A great literary critic (Matthew Arnold) thought this the finest hymn in the English language. It was written by Dr. Isaac Watts, a prominent Independent clergyman of England; born 1674, died 1748. Dr. Watts set himself to improve the character of the hymns used in dissenting churches. In 1707-09 he published a book containing 365 of his hymns, of which this is one; and in 1719 another volume of free versions or" Imitations" of the Psalms. They became very popular, and for a long time no other hymns than those of Dr. Watts were sung in a great many churches in England and this country. He is often called "the Father of English Hymnody."
This hymn is founded on the text in Galatians referred to in its title. The thought in both hymn and text is that " worldliness dies in my heart when I look on the world's Maker dead for me on the cross." There were five verses in the hymn as Dr. Watts published it, one of which is generally omitted.