I SAW THE CROSS OF JESUS
“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
INTRO.: A hymn which suggests how important the preaching of the cross is to those who are saved is “I Saw the Cross of Jesus.” The text was written by Frederick Whitfield (1829-1904). Best remembered as the author of another hymn beginning, “There is a name I love to hear,” which our books pair up with the tune of an old camp meeting chorus, “O How I Love Jesus,” Whitfield apparently penned “I Saw the Cross of Jesus” in 1855 when it appeared on a single sheet. Its first hymnal inclusion was in Ryles’s 1860 Hymns for the Church. Whitfield then included it in his own Sacred Poems and Prose of 1861.
The tune (Whitfield, Calcutta, or Patna) is said to be an anonymous Greek folk song from an unknown source, which has sometimes erroneously been attributed to Reginald Heber (1783-1826). It goes back to an 1811 benefit concert at the Theatre Royal in Dublin, Ireland, arranged by Thomas Moore (1779-1852). There it appeared in a “Melologue upon National Music” as a “Greek Air” with a note by Moore saying, “For this pretty Greek melody I am indebted to Mr. Gell who brought it with him from Athens.” Its earliest known appearance as a hymn tune was in the 1851 Psalmista edited by Thomas Hastings (1784-1872) and William B. Bradbury (1816-1868). It is not known who first adapted it as a hymn tune or made the arrangement. However, similar tunes had appeared in Lowell Mason’s and George Webb’s The Psaltery of 1845 (Loraine) and Hastings and Bradbury’s The New York Choralist of 1847 (Millenium Song).
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, the song has appeared in the 1971 Songs of the Church edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; the 2009 Favorite Songs of the Church edited by Robert J. Taylor Jr.; and the 2012 Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs edited by Steve Wolfgang et. al.
The song suggests several ways in which the cross of Jesus and what it stands for affects our lives.
- In stanza 1 we see the cross of Jesus
I saw the cross of Jesus,
When burdened with my sin;
I sought the cross of Jesus
To give me peace within.
I brought my soul to Jesus,
He cleansed it in His blood;
And in the cross of Jesus
I found my peace with God.
- Of course we do not literally see the cross, but through God’s word we see what it represents, the sacrifice of Christ: Heb. 12:2
- When we then seek the cross, we can be cleansed by His blood: 1 Jn. 1:7
- The result is having the peace of God within: Phil. 4:7
II. In stanza 2 we love the cross of Jesus
I love the cross of Jesus,
It tells me what I am—
A vile and guilty creature,
Saved only through the Lamb.
No righteousness, nor merit,
No beauty I can plead;
Yet in the cross of glory,
My title there I read.
- Of course, the cross reminds us that we are vile and guilty sinners: Rom. 3:23
- But it also tells us that we are saved by the blood of the Lamb: Rev. 7:14
- Therefore, we love the cross in the sense that we glory in what it means: Gal. 6:14
III. In stanza 3 we trust the cross of Jesus
I trust (clasp) the cross of Jesus
In every trying hour,
My sure and certain refuge,
My never failing tower.
In every fear and conflict,
I more than conqueror am;
Living I’m safe, or dying,
Through Christ, the risen Lamb.
- All of God’s people face the trying hour of tribulation: Acts 14:22
- Those who trust the cross will find refuge: Heb. 6:18
- And they will be more than conquerors: Rom. 8:35-39
IV. In stanza 4 we are safe in the cross of Jesus
Safe in (Sweet is) the cross of Jesus!
There let my weary heart
Still rest in peace unshaken,
Till with Him, ne’er to part.
And then in strains of glory
I’ll sing His wondrous power,
Where sin can never enter,
And death is known no more.
- By staying safe in the cross, we continue to rest in peace: Col. 1:20
- We also have the hope of being with Him in glory: Col. 3:4
- There we shall find that death is known no more: Rev. 21:4
CONCL.: The slight variations noted above in parentheses are taken from the Psalter Hymnal Handbook, 1988. I do not know if the editors of the Psalter Hymnal Handbook made the changes or if the version found in the Psalter Hymnal Handbook is the original. Again, I do not literally look on the cross as did those at Calvary. But I can understand what God’s word teaches about what it means and appreciate the many spiritual benefits that have come into my life because “I Saw the Cross of Jesus.”