APRIL 3, 2006

€œHe Dies! The Friend of Sinners Dies!€?
By Pastor George Van Alstine

The hymns of Isaac Watts (1674-1748) revolutionized the church music of his day, much as “praise songsâ€? have dominated in the transformation of music in our churches today. We know Watts through some of his most lasting and memorable hymns: “Joy to the World,â€? “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,â€? “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed?â€? “Jesus Shall Reign,â€? “Join All the Glorious Names,â€? “Come We that Love the Lord,â€? “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past,â€? “I Sing the Mighty Power of God,â€? and “Am I a Soldier of the Cross?â€? What an influence he’s had on our lives through these hymns!

But Watts wrote the lyrics of hundreds of other hymns, most of them just as profound, Biblical and persuasive. These are not as well known today for one of two reasons: some use dated, seventeenth-century language that makes them hard for modern Americans to understand; others never became wedded to easily-learned and singable tunes that would stick in people’s minds.

Here’s one for your Holy Week meditation. Just the title/first line captures the wonder of what happened that first Good Friday:


What a beautiful name for Jesus: “The Friend of Sinnersâ€?! It captures his empathy, compassion, loyalty and love. And this is the One they have put to death on the cross! The shock of it makes Watts repeat the phrase “He dies!â€? twice.

The whole hymn takes us on a roller coaster ride—down into the valley of the shadow of death and up to the surprising glory of the Resurrection and Ascension:

He dies! The Friend of sinners dies!
Lo! Salem’s daughters weep around;
A solemn darkness veils the skies,
A sudden trembling shakes the ground:

Come, saints, and drop a tear or two
For Him who groan’d beneath your load;
He shed a thousand drops for you, –
A thousand drops of richer blood.
Here’s love and grief beyond degree:

The Lord of glory dies for man!
But lo! What sudden joys we see:
Jesus, the dead, revives again.
The rising God forsakes the tomb;
(In vain the tomb forbids His rise;)
Cherubic legions guard Him home,

And shout Him welcome to the skies.
Break off your tears, ye saints, and tell
How high your great Deliv’rer reigns;
Sing how He spoil’d the hosts of hell,
And led the monster death in chains:

Say, Live forever, wondrous King!
Born to redeem, and strong to save;
Then ask the monster, Where’s thy sting?
And, Where’s thy vict’ry, boastinggrave?

Meditate during Holy Week on these phrases:

  • “Drop a tear or twoâ€?/“He shed a thousand drops for youâ€?
  • “Here’s love and grief beyond degree.â€? (Both love and grief abound.)
  • “The Lord of glory dies for man!â€?
  • “Jesus, the dead, revives again.â€?
  • “Break of your tearsâ€?/“Tell …â€? “Sing …â€? “Say…â€?
  • “Ask the monster, Where’s thy sting?â€?

Creative people like Isaac Watts share their gifts with those around them. Little do they know that over 300 years later spiritually hungry people may still find life-giving nourishment from their words and music. Our souls vibrate to the same chords as Watts’ did as we meditate on what Jesus did for us.