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Dissecting Hymns: Jesus I My Cross Have Taken [Part 2]

Dissecting Hymns: Jesus I My Cross Have Taken [Part 2]

This post is part of an ongoing series meant to encourage us to more deeply consider, understand, and reflect upon the words that we sing in worship.

I distinctly remember the day I first heard this hymn. It was early on in my freshman year of college, during worship with an on-campus ministry. When I first saw the title flash across the screen, I thought, Huh, here’s one I haven’t heard before. And then, as the band strummed through that first dense verse, I thought, What on earth are we singing?

At first, I rather disliked the song. It was long, it felt repetitive, and many of the words didn’t make much sense to me. But it was one of our worship leader’s favorite hymns, so we sang it often. As we did, I slowly began to remember the words. And as I began to remember the words, I also began to actually reflect upon their depth and their truth. And the more I reflected, the more deeply encouraged I grew. I eventually came to love this hymn.

So, let’s take a look at some of the depth and truth in those six verses of Jesus I My Cross Have Taken.

Jesus, I my cross have taken,

All to leave and follow Thee.

Destitute, despised, forsaken,

Thou from hence my all shall be.

Perish every fond ambition,

All I’ve sought or hoped or known.

Yet how rich is my condition!

God and heaven are still my own.

We all know well the calling of the Christian walk—to take up our cross and follow Christ (Matthew 16:24). However, that task may seem like too simple of an instruction when we forget to consider all that comes along with it—what happens to us when and after we have taken up our cross? Here the songwriter begins to unpack this very question. And he notes that taking up our cross means preparing to leave everything behind—our old ways of living, everything we might have formerly desired more than Christ. Yet when Christ becomes our new everything, we grow richer than we ever could have been before.

Let the world despise and leave me,

They have left my Savior, too.

Human hearts and looks deceive me;

Thou art not, like them, untrue.

O while Thou dost smile upon me,

God of wisdom, love, and might,

Foes may hate and friends disown me,

Show Thy face and all is bright.

When we take up that cross, we have to realize that the world may reject us, as Scripture also warns. We may be judged, our friends may leave us, and yet Christ himself experienced this same abandonment, so it’s not something we should fear. In fact, the thoughts, actions, and intentions of man will always be full of potential for hurt, heartache, and deceit. We’re reminded here that Christ is the only one full of truth, wisdom, and love, and he must be our rock in the midst of the pretenses of this world.

Man may trouble and distress me,

Twill but drive me to Thy breast.

Life with trials hard may press me;

Heaven will bring me sweeter rest.

Oh, tis not in grief to harm me

While Thy love is left to me;

Oh, twere not in joy to charm me,

Were that joy unmixed with Thee.

When we’ve committed to follow Christ, we can know that the difficulties we may face in this life aren’t purposeless. Instead, they’re meant to drive us nearer to the heart of Christ—to rely fully on him and the rest only he can supply our weary souls. Because we have Christ, we can find joy even in the midst of life’s deepest trials, disappointments, and distress.

Go, then, earthly fame and treasure,

Come disaster, scorn and pain

In Thy service, pain is pleasure,

With Thy favor, loss is gain

I have called Thee Abba Father,

I have stayed my heart on Thee

Storms may howl, and clouds may gather;

All must work for good to me.

Once we have taken up our cross—knowing that Christ himself bore the full weight of it for us—and once we’ve set our foundation upon him, we can know that everything that happens to us has been ordained by God for our good. This can be a hard pill for some of us to swallow. How can pain, trouble, or heartache ever be meant for good? The songwriter reminds us that as a follower of Christ, we should welcome trial, poverty, rejection, failure, and brokenness with open arms. Because we know that we have a God who is bigger than all of it and who holds onto us through it. He takes the worst things of life and uses them for our growth and our good and his glory.

Soul, then know thy full salvation

Rise o’er sin and fear and care

Joy to find in every station,

Something still to do or bear.

Think what Spirit dwells within thee,

Think what Fathers smiles are thine,

Think that Jesus died to win thee,

Child of heaven, canst thou repine.

When we come to know that all of these things are true, it has to change us. It has to change the attitude of our hearts and how we go on living. When we come to know the full depth of the gospel—how rescued we have been, and how loved we are—we can look up to find joy wherever we’re at. When we consider the truth of our salvation—that Christ died to win us, and that he dwells within us—we can know that we have a real and holy purpose to be living in every phase of life. We have a deep joy to be found in our lives and our work.

Haste thee on from grace to glory,

Armed by faith, and winged by prayer.

Heaven’s eternal days before thee,

God’s own hand shall guide us there.

Soon shall close thy earthly mission,

Soon shall pass thy pilgrim days,

Hope shall change to glad fruition,

Faith to sight, and prayer to praise.

If there’s one thing I like to take away from this last verse, and from the hymn as a whole, it is the reminder of our eternal nature. Of course, we have work to do here and now in this life, but we’re bound for somewhere greater, somewhere permanent, somewhere ultimately good. We can be reminded that our toil in this life—and the things we suffer—are not in vain because each day brings us one step closer to seeing eternity.

Yes, taking up our cross means obediently walking this earthly mission that won’t be without pain. However, taking up our cross also means the sweet, sure, forever promise of glory.

The lyrics of this hymn were written by Henry Lyte (born 1793, died 1847).

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Meg Rodriguez

Meg Rodriguez is a writer based in her hometown of St. Louis, MO. Though for most of her life she had prepared for a career in medicine, Meg dropped out of medical school when she realized she couldn’t shake her passions to reach people relationally and to live a smaller, more “ordinary" life as a wife and someday-mother. Meg writes most about the themes that have shaped her life thus far—ongoing struggle with chronic illness, faith, beauty in suffering, resilience, and calling. Find more of her writing at megrodriguez.com or follow her on Instagram @megcrodriguez.

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