Horatio G. Stafford wrote lyrics for the hymn that has the chorus, "It is well, it is well with my soul". It may be more quickly recognised by that chorus than its title, "It Is Well".

Verse 3 starts off well, and ends well, but there's a bit in the middle that disturbs me (put in bold) as this seems to show a muddling up of two different theological points about what happened at the cross. Here is all of verse 3:

My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought!

My sin, not in part but in whole,

Is nailed to His cross, and I bear it no more:

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

But does not Colossians 2:14 state that it was the handwriting of ordinances which were contrary to us that was nailed to the cross, removing them - "in whole"?

Yes, 1 Peter 2:24 says that Christ, on the tree, bore in his own body our sins. However, the handwritten commands were perfect, not sinful, yet the time came for them to be removed. This seems to have happened alongside Christ bearing our sins in his body on the tree. That which was not perfect (our sins) was borne by Christ in his body, while the perfect law of God was nailed to the cross, to be removed.

Does this not conflate those two truths, by fusing bits of both together, so that both truths are corrupted? Our sins are ours, personally. The law of God is perfect and is his. Is it not critically important for the sake of biblical theology to know how both those things were dealt with - one nailed to the cross, the other borne in Christ's body?

(Note: this related question deals with Colossians 2:14 and may be helpful in clarifying the doctrine of that scripture, but it does not deal with the hymn in question and the other scripture it incorporates. Whose hand wrote 'the document that listed my transgressions' ? (Colossians 2:14) )

  • 3
    This is not really an on topic question It is a matter of poetic license The term poetic license describes the freedom an artist or writer has to change details, distort facts, or ignore the usual rules — especially if the art they produce is better as a result.
    – Kris
    Feb 20 at 14:05
  • 2
    @Kris If you go through the list of Qs under the Tag, 'hymns', you will see the validity of questioning some lyrics with regard to some theology, in this case the theology of what happened at Calvary. This Q has relevance for all Christians who grasp that the theology of what happened at Calvary is so crucially important, that lyrics which appear to take liberties with that should be questioned.
    – Anne
    Feb 20 at 14:39
  • 1
    Was not Christ's body also nailed to the cross? Feb 20 at 14:57
  • 1
    Anne, at the cross Jesus became our sin. Is this not what 2 Corinthians 5:21 is saying? IMO, it is not too much of a stretch to say our sins, as well as the ordinances, were nailed to the cross. Paul stresses sometimes even the ordinances were taken away so that we may know our current failings do not condemn.. there is now no condemnation, because there are no longer any continuing ordinances which can condemn. Feb 20 at 17:07
  • 4
    Confess I love this hymn, and for me the best part of it is the very verse you are concerned about. To be honest, though what you say might be plausible, I'm struggling to see much to worry about in the distinction you are making. And it is not as if the ordinances were literally nailed to the cross.. so why can it not be said that our sins were nailed to the cross? Feb 20 at 18:53

2 Answers 2


The sense is that Christ became sin and when nailed to the tree did both.

"and took it--Greek, and hath taken it out of the way" (so as to be no longer a hindrance to us), by "nailing it to the cross." Christ, by bearing the curse of the broken law, has redeemed us from its curse ( Gal 3:13 ). In His person nailed to the cross, the law itself was nailed to it. One ancient mode of cancelling bonds was by striking a nail through the writing: this seems at that time to have existed in Asia [GROTIUS]. JFB Chapter 2 V 14

OP for the sake of biblical theology to know how both those things were dealt with - one nailed to the cross, the other borne in Christ's body?

There's the both; in the Body and nailed to the tree.

Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. 1 Peter 2:24

New question to clarify. How/when did our sins become borne in Christ's body and thus get nailed to the cross?

It's part of the New Covenant. Christ gives us His life cup (as done at Last Supper). Then He takes our death cup.

And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. Mt 26:39

Christ became sin. Imputed to Him, like with the Mosaic sacrifices.

For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. 2 Cor 5:21

So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. Heb 9:28

Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: Gal 3:13

Hope that helps clarify the two are the same.

  • That's helpful as it shows there's no contradiction; it is not "either" one, "or" the other. Both happened at the crucifixion. Not that I ever thought there was any contradiction! My Q wants to tease out if it's misleading to conflate the two points, particularly if the removal of handwritten ordinances is minimised or said to mean something else.
    – Anne
    Feb 22 at 15:25
  • It strikes me that the phrase "simul iustus et peccator", "at the same time righteous and sinner" is fitting here: the Law, being a matter of righteousness, was nailed to the Cross, but at the same time its opposite, unrighteousness, was nailed there. Both of these are part of the enmity that was removed.
    – Traildude
    Feb 26 at 3:25

The theology is sound. Here is why.

The article "What Was Nailed to the Cross in Colossians 2:14?" has a good analysis of this issue:


Some highlights:

Roman custom was to nail a plague above the head with the name of the accused and the crime that they committed. It was analogous to an indictment. This was done in Jesus' case.

By analogy and the substitutionary nature of Christ's sacrifice, the indictment against us - not the Law - is nailed to that cross. The indictment is an artifact of law but is made specific to the case of the lawbreaker by listing the charges against them - their sins.

Here is a relevant quote from the article:

The writ of charges; the indictment against us

In using the words “handwriting of requirements … contrary to us … nailed it to the cross,” Paul was describing the record of our sins, the indictment that required the penalty of death.

Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words says this about the word translated “handwriting,” cheirographon: “This means a memorandum of debt, ‘a writing by hand’ used in public and private contracts, and it is a technical word in the Greek papyri. …

“In the famous Florentine papyrus of A.D. 85, the governor of Egypt gives this order in the course of the trial,—‘Let the hand-writing be crossed out,’ which corresponds to the ‘blotting out the hand-writing’ of Col. 2:14” (Foreword to New Testament section by W. Graham Scroggie).

The wages of sin is death

The wages of our sins—our debt—is death (Romans 6:23). Jesus Christ was willing to pay that debt by dying in our place, thus blotting out the record of our debt and pardoning our sins.

Reflecting this concept, the English Standard Version reads: “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14).

Sign on the cross of Jesus

An interesting parallel to this official death warrant that is against each of us because of our sins is the sign that Pilate had nailed to the cross or stake upon which Christ was crucified.

You can read in John 19:19-22 how there was some controversy over the wording, but the intent was plain. It was customary to publish a writ of charges against the condemned, and the board above Christ’s head was inscribed with the charges for which the Jewish authorities demanded His death.

The NKJV Study Bible has the following note on John 19:19: “It was a Roman custom to write the name of the condemned person and his crime on a plaque to be placed above his head at the execution. Mark calls this title ‘the inscription of His accusation’ (see Mark 15:26).”

  • Thank you, Paul. Just to ask upon a first quick reading, if Jesus blotted out our debt of sin by dying in our stead, why do we still have to die? Does not the scripture say that the wages of sin is death, and we all have to receive our wage for the works of sin we have built up, by dying. A wage is earned. We earn our death and God will not hold back our wages. But a free pardon is a gift, not earned. Is our wage (our death), and the gift (sins pardoned), being conflated?
    – Anne
    Feb 20 at 15:27
  • 1
    You always ask such tough questions, Anne! The one in your comment is worthy of another question post. Feb 20 at 17:10
  • Right enough, Paul. The Q in my comment above should have a fresh post, for although related to the Q I've asked here, is another point. (Note to self: Keep on-topic!)
    – Anne
    Feb 20 at 17:41

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .