Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

 •  3 min. read  •  grade level: 10
Hymns #3, 42, 43, 51, 60, 89, 95, 102, 122, 144, 145, 228, 269, 271, 281, 283, 293, 298, 335, Appendix 8, 39, 53 (22 hymns).
Dr. Isaac Watts was the grandson of a British naval commander, Thomas Watts, who was blown up with his ship in war with the Dutch. His father Isaac Watts Sr. showed his courage in an entirely different field. He was a deacon in the Congregationalist church and suffered much persecution for not conforming to the Church of England ritual. Just about this time, on July 17, 1674, young Isaac Watts, the hymn writer, was born. His father was shut up in prison for conscience sake and his wife with young Isaac often sat on the stone near the gate so as to get a glimpse of her husband and give him a glimpse of the child. In 1688 William, Prince of Orange, came over from Holland to sit upon the British throne, and from then on persecution (and Tower of London executions) ceased. This brought in a brighter era for believers who did not conform to the Church of England.
Dr. Watts is considered the “father of English hymnody” and thus the originator of good Christian hymns as we now have them in the older books. Before his time practically the only singing in the English and Scottish churches took the form of crude versions of the Psalms. Once he expressed his dislike of the crude singing and was challenged—”Give us something better, young man!” That very day he wrote the hymn:
“Behold the glories of the Lamb
Amidst His Father’s throne;
Prepare new honors for His Name
And songs before unknown.”
He had the congregation close the evening service by singing this hymn!
We do not know how his heart was first opened to receive Christ, but we see in hymn #283 how precious Christ was to him. How touching those lines!
“When we survey the wondrous cross
On which the Lord of glory died,
Our richest gain we count but loss,
And pour contempt on all our pride.
“There from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flowed mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?”
Originally this was written with the personal pronouns such as “I” instead of “we,” but for collective singing in the assembly Mr. Darby revised it to the plural.
Dr. Watts was only five feet in height and slight of build and was in ill health most of his life. In his early days he proposed marriage to a Miss Elizabeth Singer, but she unhappily repulsed him with the remark, “While I love the jewel (his excellent mind and character), I do not admire the casket that contained it.” Isaac Watts never married.
Being worn out by weakness and labor, rather than by any particular ailment, he simply ceased to breathe on November 25, 1748. So now he knows more fully that “Now the full glories of the Lamb adorn the heavenly throne.”