While engaged in the task of cleaning and seasoning the chicken I purchased several days before, I half listened to Arthur Blissett, the man who carried a 12 foot cross around the world, and holds the Guinness World Records for the world’s longest walk. He was describing an incident that occurred in Beruit: the story was of a woman who chose life over suicide after seeing the cross going up a hill. After scrubbing my hands, I turned from the kitchen sink to begin exercising.
My movement toward the television to insert my exercise DVD, was halted by the sound and images of a group singing, “When I survey the wondrous cross.” They were joined by Guy Penrod, a tall man with salt and pepper hair past his shoulders, who was an original member of the Gaither Vocal band. He was followed by, David Phelps, whose voice I cannot adequately describe; Phelps was lead vocalist for the last verse.
“Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were a present far too small
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all.”
A love that demands. A love that demands. It was not the first or even the tenth time I heard the hymn, but this phrase arrested me. The concept of a love that demands seemed to contradict what I understand about love. In addition, it seemed incongruent with the description of love in 1 Corinthians 13. This chapter lists the following attribute of love, “it does not insist on its own rights or its own way, for it is not self-seeking.” Did Isaac Watts, the songwriter, misunderstand the nature of love?
As it turns out, he did not. Although the Merriam-Webster dictionary does define “demand” as an act of demanding or asking especially with authority, as in a demand for obedience, it also defines demand as something claimed as due. “Due”- owing, appropriate, suitable, fitting, proper, as it should be.
What makes giving “my soul, my life, my all” an appropriate, suitable, fitting, proper, as it should be response to this “love, so amazing, so divine?”
Let us listen to the rendition of the hymn I mentioned earlier and mediate on the lyrics:
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
“When I survey the wondrous cross” – To survey is not to take a cursory glance. It is to examine as to condition, situation or value: appraise; to view or consider comprehensively; to inspect, scrutinize. What do we see when we scrutinize the Cross? Those who personally witnessed His crucifixion saw His physical wounds: His battered, bloody body and face; no place left unmarked. The prophet Isaiah foretold, “So His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men” (Isaiah 52:12). Perhaps some of these in-person witnesses also heard His emotional wounds, resulting from His separation from the Father, as expressed in the agony filled words that he groaned.
What could be experienced through the natural senses, however, was not all that transpired on the Cross: The sinless One, God made flesh, became sin and mankind, who was born in sin, became the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus (Psalm 51:5; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Reconciliation also occurred there – reconciliation between God and man (Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20; Ephesians 2:11-13; Colossians 1:19-22) and between Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2:16).
John 3:16, the familiar verse, sums it up, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Yes, “this love so amazing, so divine, demands (emphasis added) my soul, my life, my all,” and rightly so. My absolute surrender is owed this love, is an appropriate, suitable, fitting, proper, as it should be response to His incomprehensible love.