“Cross of Jesus, Cross of Sorrow”

"Christ also…suffered for sins, the just for the unjust" (1 Pet. 3:18)

     INTRO.: A hymn which centers our minds on the fact that Christ suffered for our sins is "Cross of Jesus, Cross of Sorrow" (#595 in Hymns for Worship Revised). The text was written by William John Sparrow-Simpson, who was born on June 20, 1860, at London, England.  After being educated at Trinity College in Cambridge, he became an Anglican minister and served various churches but is best remembered for compiling the lyrics in 1886, apparently using the penname James S. Simpson, for the famous oratorio The Crucifixion that was published in 1887 with music by John Stainer, who was born at London, England, on June 6, 1840, the son of a schoolmaster. As a young man, Stainer served at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, after which he was educated at Christ Church in Oxford and at St. Edmund Hall.

     In 1860 Stainer became organist at Magdalen College and in 1861 at University College. Then in 1872, he succeeded John Goss as the music director at St. Paul’s Cathedral and served with distinction until failing eyesight forced his retirement. During his life he produced over 150 hymn tunes, some of which appear in his Choir-Book for the Office of Holy Communion in 1873, many anthems, and several cantatas. In 1879 he served as coeditor of The Dictionary of Musical Terms and authored the book The Music of the Bible. His textbook on organ playing was a classic for more than half a century. Stainer’s most famous musical work was his oratorio The Crucifixion of 1887, which contains this hymn with Sparrow-Simpson’s words and Stainer’s tune (Crux Jesu). Though the oratorio was written for chorus, this part was evidently intended to be sung by the entire audience. After his retirement in 1888, Stainer was knighted by Queen Victoria and returned to Oxford where he taught until he died. In 1898, he served as music editor for the Church Hymnary.

     A skilful and effective choir trainer, organist, editor, composer, and teacher, Stainer was one of the most eminent of the Victorian church musicians, but is probably best known for his popular arrangements of old English melodies, such as that for the famous holiday song, "The First Noel." He died at Verona, Italy, on Mar. 31, 1901. Besides his collaboration with Stainer, Sparrow-Simpson made literary contributions in the fields of church history and theology. In 1904, he was appointed Chaplain of St. Mary’s Hospital at Great Ilford in Essex, England where he died on Feb. 13, 1952. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the only one in which I have found the text is Hymns for Worship Revised (not in the original edition), which for reasons that are beyond me uses a different tune composed by John Bacchus Dykes that in most of our books is associated with "Father, Hear the Prayer We Offer" by Love M. Willis.

     This hymn helps us to think about the great sorrow that Jesus experienced while on the cross for us.

I. Stanza 1 says that on the cross Jesus shed His blood
"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!"
 A. It is certainly fitting to call the cross of Jesus a "cross of sorrow" because He was the "Man of sorrows": Isa. 53.3
 B. It is through the shed blood of Christ that we have remission of sins: Matt. 26.28
 C. While the one who suffered on the cross was a perfect Man, He was also "truly…the Son of God": Mk. 15.39

II. Stanza 2 says that on the cross Jesus was crucified for our sins
"Here the King of all the ages, Throned in light ere worlds could be,
Robed in mortal flesh is dying, Crucified by sin for me."
 A. That being whom we identify as Jesus Christ was, before He came to this earth, the King of all the ages who dwelt with God Himself: Jn. 1.1
 B. In His preincarnate existence, He was throned with with a glory about which He later prayed: Jn. 17.5
 C. Yet, He came to die, not just as a martyr, but as a sacrifice for our sins: 1 Cor. 15.3-4

III. Stanza 3 says that on the cross Jesus bore the sufferings of all mankind
"O mysterious condescending! O abandonment sublime!
Very God Himself is bearing All the sufferings of time."
 A. The word "condescending" refers to the fact that Jesus made Himself of no reputation or emptied Himself: Phil. 2.5–7
 B. The idea of "abandonment" may refer to Christ’s statement on the cross about His feeling forsaken by God: Matt. 27.46
 C. When Jesus died, it was not just for a selkect few, but He tasted death for every person from all times: Heb. 2.9

IV. Stanza 4 says that on the cross Jesus accomjplished what God planned for our spiritual needs
"Evermore for human failure By His passion we can plead;
God has born all mortal anguish, Surely He will know our need."
 A. Human failure is the sin which separates us from God: Isa. 59.1-2
 B. However, by Christ’s passion or suffering, we can come before the throne to plead for help: Heb. 4.14-16
 C. Because He bore our mortal anguish, we can be assured that He knows what we need and offers pardon from our sins: Rom. 4.7-8

     CONCL.: When we talk about the cross of Calvary, we are not speaking of just the instrument on which Jesus Christ was slain for the sins of the world. Because of the blessings that are available as a result of what Jesus did there, the cross is also used symbolically throughout the New Testament to refer to the very heart of the message of the gospel. Therefore, we should be ever thankful for what happened on that "Cross of Jesus, Cross of Sorrow."


2 thoughts on ““Cross of Jesus, Cross of Sorrow”

  1. I am creating a hymn study – with the hymn and a list of questions about the hymn – the answers are in the hymn mostly, some thought questions too – that would go along with this study well although the hymn I jus did was written alittle different in the book I am using – neither are right or wrong just different. If you are interested in looking at my studies please
    e-mail me joerhyme@brainerd.net.

    This is a median I had not thought of it would be perfect for home schooling and raising awareness of hymns and what they are saying to us and to God.

  2. Dear Hymn Studies,

    This song “Cross of Jesus (cross of sorrow)” appears as Song # 122 in the “Church Hymnal, Mennonite” (Published by Mennonite Publishing House, Scottdale, Pennsylvania, with J. D. Brunk as Musical Editor, and S. F. Coffman, as Hymn Editor), 1927. Used by the “Mennonite Church” in North America for42 years until the song book was updated in 1969. My mother-in-law just finished playing it on the piano for me, and remembered it is part of the oratoria, The Crucifixion. Thank you for the reference to the oratoria, which my mother-in-law had forgotten the name.

    Dennis in Indiana


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