The Inspiring Message of “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed”

Sharon Simms

Freelance contributor
Updated Aug 08, 2022
The Inspiring Message of “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed”

“Alas and Did My Savior Bleed” is one of the most famous hymns of all time, reminding us of a potent Biblical theme. What does that theme have to teach us today?

What would the title read if you composed a song based on a period of your life? What message would the verses ring out? Might the words be packed with radiant joy or wistful regret? Songs can express moods and reflect circumstances. Hymns are songs of praise designed to worship God in a corporate setting. Jesus’ crucifixion inspired the hymn, “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed.” The author weaved personal and theological characteristics into lyrics created to encourage a profound, dynamic reaction to atonement.

Who Wrote “Alas and Did My Savior Bleed”?

Isaac Watts wore different hats. He was the oldest of nine children born to a teacher. He had a doctorate in divinity and worked as a pastor. He was a poet and composer of 600 hymns, which earned him the title “Father of Hymnody.”

When Watts criticized his church’s passionless, rote Psalm tunes, his father challenged him, “Young man, why don’t you give us something better to sing?” He took the challenge and rose above it.

If he had been given an intelligence test, Watts would have blown it off the map. He reportedly mastered Latin by four, Greek at nine, French at ten, and Hebrew by thirteen. At age seven, he wrote the following spiritual acrostic of his first and last name:

I — I am a vile, polluted lump of earth.

S — So I’ve continued ever since my birth.

A — Although Jehovah, grace doth daily give me.

A — As sure this monster, Satan, will deceive me.

C — Come, therefore, Lord, from Satan’s claws, relieve me.

W — Wash me in thou blood, O Christ.

A — And grace divine impart.

T — Then search and try the corners of my heart.

T — That I in all things may be fit to do.

S — Service to thee, and thou praise too

Both Watts and his father were named dissenters since they deserted the Church of England’s way of worship in song. They believed the Church of England adhered too close to the Roman Catholic teaching of singing songs taken directly from Scripture. Isaac declared that if people prayed to God using their own words, they could sing and praise Him the same way. He marveled that Christians walked into a sanctuary sabbath after sabbath, under the guise of worship and praise, yet the songs were downtrodden.

Watts was quoted, “I have long been convinced that one great occasion of this evil arises from the matter and words to which we have confined all our songs. Some of them are almost opposite to the spirit of the gospel, many of them foreign to the state of the New Testament, and widely different from the present circumstances of Christians.”

Let the Church say “amen!” Bravo, Isaac. Paraphrased, “God’s not dead! Magnify and honor Him. Remember what He has done for you. Pour forth praise.” Through my research, Isaac gained a fan.

When Watts wrote “Alas and Did My Savior Bleed” in 1707, he originally titled it “Godly Sorrow Arising From the Sufferings of Christ.” He included it in the first edition of Hymns and Spiritual Songs and an enlarged edition in 1709. America and Great Britain caught wind of it, and the song gained popularity as a worship hymn. Meanwhile, the Church of England criticized his songs as uninspiring.

An upscale university education knocked, but Watts thumbed his proverbial nose and attended a non-conformist academy instead. Physically, he wasn’t a towering superhero: despite frail health, the warrior of words remained a steadfast servant of the Lord. “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed” communicates the speaker’s reflection on the death of Jesus.

Why Did Watts Write “Alas and Did My Savior Bleed”?

Above, we discussed Watts’ feelings on repeating the Psalms verse-by-verse in songs without emotion. Dr. Watts yearned to incorporate Christ’s Divinity, love, faith, and hope in songs.

Psalms, to me, reflect humanity acknowledging frailty and need for the Father. The writings, whether from a king or a musician, appear as journals. Whether one cried out for help, healing, seeking retribution, guidance, comfort, or gave thanks for endless mercies and grace, the writer knew from whence cometh his help.

Watts intended to add emotion to the Psalms, like we do when we read them aloud. Because he’d meditated on Scripture since childhood, phrases flowed as nuggets from God. Sentences like those in “Alas and Did My Savior Bleed” reminded him of God the Father’s radical, agape love for humankind and the sinless savior’s faithful obedience to His Father and love for humanity.

The Lyrics to “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 sinners such as I?

2 Was it for crimes that I have done,

he groaned upon the tree?

Amazing pity! Grace unknown!

And love beyond degree!

3 Well might the sun in darkness hide,

and shut its glories in,

when God, the mighty maker, died

for his own 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 to tears.

5 But drops of tears can ne’er repay

the debt of love I owe.

Here, Lord, I give myself away;

’tis all that I can do.

6 My God, why would You shed Your blood

So pure and undefiled

To make a sinful one like me

Your chosen, precious child?

Refrain (written by Ralph F. Hudson):

At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,

And the burden of my heart rolled away,

It was there by faith I received my sight,

And now I am happy all the day!

I must confess. Before researching this poetic masterpiece, I’d only sampled the delight of this refrain. In 1855, Ralph F. Hudson attached a chorus and the tune of “At the Cross(which I recall from revivals).

Editors printed sixteen editions in Watts’ lifetime. I listened to two different versions while researching this article. Variations in the editions included punctuation and text. For example, line three in stanza three changed from “When God the mighty, Maker died” to “When Christ the mighty Maker died,” due to alleged concern that someone would confuse Trinity’s persons. Line four of the same stanza changed from “man” to “his own” to omit the masculine language. Stanzas four and five should be sung together without the refrain in the middle. Some editors have omitted the worm language in the first stanza, which is a pity since Watts considered it important enough to compare and contrast with Christ’s sacred head. The lowliest of creatures, a worm, crawled on its belly and expected crushing blows beneath humans’ feet. Psalm 22 references a worm. An air of humility wafted through the poem. The sacred head, our King, descended not in royal apparel to fight our battles and conquer the sting of death. According to Isaiah 53, “He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2-3 KJV).

Published in six stanzas with four lines each, minus music, this reverential hymn reveals the author’s stunned amazement at how the sovereign savior was obedient even unto death to satisfy our sin penalty against God (Philippians 2:8). I feel the same wonder at the sinless one’s amazing pity for a wretch like me (John 3:16; Romans 3:10; 3:23; 3:25; 5:8).

The first stanza commences in the middle of the story, and the word “alas”expresses pity or unhappiness. Its position in the hymn caused me to compare it with a conjunction like “therefore.” When I view “therefore” at the beginning of a work, it’s a spur to investigate further. So, in this case, I note the preceding paragraphs above that Scripture. What images sprang to mind as you glimpsed the song title? Does it soak in that our actions caused the innocent savior to suffer excruciating pain? Are we truly prepared to follow Jesus and be hated by the world? Remember, the world may sometimes be those in your household.

Imagine that day when the sun hid from noon until three. Christ moaned (Luke 23:45). How amazing the love and grace that paid a debt we owed (John 15:13.Propitiation,a big word for atonement or satisfied, is inferred throughout the song. Jesus’ death on a cross satisfied the penalty man earned for sinning against our Holy God. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10).

Stanzas four and five drip with godly sorrow and humankind’s realization of how insufficient even the most devout believer is without Crist. Thus, the heart is primed for repentance and complete surrender of all we have: ourselves, for salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10a).

True to form, scriptures aren’t spelled out word for word, yet the Roman Road to salvation leads a trail. Did you know that the musical prodigy, Fanny Crosby, who wrote “Blessed Assurance” and “Pass Me Not,” credited this hymn for drawing her to repentance and salvation?

Ephesians 5:19 captured my eye as a fitting summation of Dr. Watts’ view on hymns and praising our worthy Lord: “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” Let’s worship the Lord in spirit and truth. Everything that hath breath praise the Lord.

Further Reading:

10 Things You Need to Know about Fanny Crosby

Who Wrote “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed”?

Isaac Watts' Birthday Sermon

Who Wrote “This Is the Day the Lord Has Made”?

Isaac Watts, Father of English Hymnody

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/g215

Sharon Simms contributor to Salem Web NetworkSharon Simms hails from East Texas and loves the Lord, family (which includes friends), and milk chocolate. She enjoys interacting with people and is driven to share how Jesus changed her life. Her first Upper Room pictorial devotion is scheduled for release on July 28, 2022. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and relates life lessons with God’s teachings daily via Bible videos on Instagram, (Sharondsimms), Facebook, and YouTube.