The British spelling is intentional, as Watts was English. Watts is an interesting character that I need to read more about (especially regarding theology; I know some about his life and background, but little about his theology). One thing that I notice and appreciate about his hymns is he uses very … graphic language. It’s not generic, ambiguous, or … colourless, I guess.
Note that there is a version of this song with an added refrain, but I don’t like the refrain that was added … so, this is the original, no additional refrain. Also, in case you wonder what music I like, I think Sovereign Grace’s version is good – contemplative, decidedly minor sounding (it’s a “minor” sort of song), etc. It also has an added refrain, but I find it to be more complementary to the original lyrics.
Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?
Right at the beginning, I really like how Watts draws our focus to the great injustice of Christ’s death; that the Sovereign (King) would die for the Worm (fully depraved, rebellious, enemy-of-God sinner). I know there’s the “worm theology” thing … I don’t think Watts is overly worm-ish though. I think he balances it pretty well, doesn’t dwell only on that, and does not constantly just refer to us as worms (which God does not, either – co-heirs, adopted children, redeemed, loved, etc).
Thy body slain, sweet Jesus, Thine—
And bathed in its own blood—
While the firm mark of wrath divine,
His Soul in anguish stood.
This is an “unknown” verse … I have never sung it. Perhaps the editors thought it was too graphic. Personally, I don’t think so… it seems that we sort of sterilize some parts of the Bible (e.g., the manger scene was this very calm, clear night with stars out and everybody quiet, Mary apparently had a painless birth, Jesus never cried, etc.). I think it’s good to be reminded about the very disturbing imagery of what it really meant to be crucified. The 1st century Christians knew what this meant and, I assume, many had seen crucifixions (and many were crucified).
I’m not sure about this analysis, but it seems as though Watts draws a distinction between the physical abuse – blood – and the divine wrath which His soul stood in. If so, I think that is something that is very good to remember; ultimately, what caused Christ to cry out in agony (at least, in the Gospels) was not the physical pain and abuse which He did suffer and which was indeed excruciating; rather, what caused His agony was the “forsaking” of His Father.
Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!
Drawing attention to why Christ was crucified; it was for my crime. I like the word “crime.” “Sin” is, of course, a good word, too … but “crime” just brings an added jolt, since it isn’t a common term that we use. I also like that Watts also distinguishes between what grace was previously known; we now have a perfect sacrifice, as the author of Hebrews points out; this is a grace that was unknown before the crucifixion of the perfect Lamb of God.
Well might the sun in darkness hide
And shut his glories in,
When Christ, the mighty Maker died,
For man the creature’s sin.
I believe this is the only confusing part, for me, in the song; is it true that the darkness surrounding the crucifixion was to shut His glories in? What exactly that means may need some clarification. However, again, I like Watts’s ironic distinction of the Maker dying for the creature.
Thus might I hide my blushing face
While His dear cross appears,
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
And melt my eyes to tears.
Blushing; surely that is a proper response! We would be horrified if some accidental insult or something caused one of our friends to undergo hardship. We’d surely blush then. How much more-so when we recall that it was our sin that caused the need for the cross?
I do have a bit of an issue with calling Christ’s cross “dear.” I know what is meant, but I don’t think there is a biblical precedent for holding the cross to be “dear.”
I also really like the imagery of “dissolving” my heart in thankfulness and “melting” my eyes to tears. Again, it describes very proper actions and accompanying emotions.
But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe:
Here, Lord, I give my self away
’Tis all that I can do.
This is very reminscent of When I Survey, where Watts says that the whole realm of nature would be a present too small, so I give my entire life. I like, too, how Watts says that it’s “all” that I can do; implying the mentality of humility… it’s not an expression that makes you think “oh, well, nature isn’t enough, so I’ll give myself instead – which is better than nature!”
Lastly, I like that grief over Christ’s death is not enough. Pitying Christ isn’t salvation. Agreeing that He suffered unjustly is not salvation. An emotional response of grief, even, is not salvation. Salvation – of course, accompanied by repentance and confession as Romans would tell us – involves “losing” my life … submitting it, entirely, to Christ as Lord.