Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed
1 Alas! and did my Savior bleed,
and did my Sovereign die!
Would he devote that sacred head
for such a worm as I!
2 Was it for crimes that I had done
he groaned upon the tree!
Amazing pity! Grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!
3 Well might the sun in darkness hide,
and shut his glories in,
when Christ, the mighty Maker, died
for man the creature’s sin.
4 Thus might I hide my blushing face
while his dear cross appears;
dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
and melt mine eyes in tears.
5 But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe;
here, Lord, I give myself away,
’tis all that I can do.
Isaac Watt’s moving hymn well reflects on the awe that every Christian must feel at the thought of what Christ has done for us. Our faith is founded above all else on the truth that Jesus Christ died for us, in an act of completely unmerited grace. The writer stands amazed at the fact that glorious God, the creator of all things, became a servant, humbled Himself and died, for our sake. The tune is one that fits well the subject, evoking sadness, thankfulness and hope.
Verse one expresses this incredulity, and even sorrow, at the tragic sight of the cross, for that is how the truth of the cross first impresses us- “alas!” It is such a tragedy that the glorious and righteous Messiah, so good and so innocent, should be treated in such a fashion. Why would He do such a thing for a worthless being, “a worm, such as I?” Though it is contemplated as a tragedy, even from the beginning the writer expresses his awareness that Jesus’ act was not something done to Him as a helpless victim, but something He chose voluntarily.
The only possible motivation for such an act is love and pity (verse 2). If it is true that I am a “worm” as the writer says, then I certainly have nothing to offer Him in return, no way to pay Him back for such a sacrifice. So it is only “love beyond degree” that could motivate such an act. No matter how long we have been Christians, how many times we have heard the story of the cross, or how much progress we have made in our Christian lives, we should never trifle with the cross, never lose our awe and gratitude, our sheer amazement that Jesus did what He did on our behalf.
The book of Matthew relates three hours of darkness in the middle of the day during the crucifixion of Christ. The death of Christ was not primarily intended as a display of some truth to man, though it does that, but rather as an act of propitiation aimed at the Father. So the sun even hides its face for a time at the sight. True love of a degree nowhere else seen is displayed in His sacrifice for those so much lower than He: He who is the maker of all things, who was there at the foundation of all things, the Wisdom by which the Father put the very stars in their courses, entered into the suffering and death to which we, His own creation, were subject because of our own sin.
So the writer says that if the sun itself would hide its face from the sight, he certainly might “hide [his] blushing face” as well. One proper response to the cross is for us to abhor ourselves for our sinfulness which made such a thing necessary (Ezekiel 36:31). If we come away from the cross with a great sense of self-esteem and appreciation for our own specialness, then we are not seeing the truth. We are beloved of God, but not for what we are. The only thing worthy about us is what God will do in us by His grace. We bring nothing to the table but our own shame and worthiness for destruction. Worms, indeed.
So the writer concludes that the only worthy response to the cross of Christ is commitment to Christ. The believer can never do enough to repay, but the one who is truly thankful for the salvation of Christ will commit himself to giving everything. The Christian faith simply cannot stop at the contemplation of the cross, but must proceed from there to our proper response to that great gift. My great comfort is that I am not my own, but belong to my Savior Jesus Christ, and the Christian life, the life of the one who truly possesses faith in that salvation, will more and more reflect that gratitude by living a life true to His word and worthy of His grace, giving all glory to Him since any good thing in me is only the result of His gracious gift.