This is the day that … Isaac Watts was born in Southampton, England, in 1674.
Little Isaac Watts showed a passion for poetry from his earliest years. It irritated his father … So much so that, when Isaac saw the mouse run up the bell rope during prayer time he really upset his father when he exclaimed:
“There was a mouse for want of stairs
Ran up the rope to say his prayers.”
The remainder of the story may just be apocryphal … Dad came with his cane ready to give your Isaac a hiding and demanding that his son speak like a normal child, instead of always “spouting poetry”. So Isaac said:
“Father, father, mercy take,
And I will no more verses make.”
(Let the People Sing, by G. Clarke, page 16).
Fortunately Isaac’s poetic genius did not desert him, nor was his enthusiasm quenched by father’s threats. He was 20 years of age and returning home from the morning service in Girdler’s Hall when he commented to his father concerning the poor quality of the hymns. “Well, give us something better, young man,” was his father’s reply (Gospel in Hymns, by A. Bailey, page 48).
Isaac did. The result …
Behold the glories of the Lamb
Amidst the Father’s throne;
Prepare new honours for His Name
And songs before unknown!
The non-conformist congregation sang it the following week.
Thus began the revolution in hymn-singing … new hymns – hymns that were not paraphrases from the Book of Psalms, but expressing the praise and worship of those who rejoice in Christ Jesus as Saviour and risen Lord.
Of course, there were the critics who roundly denounced the singing of man-made hymns. Churches even split over the issue.
But Isaac kept on writing … No wonder he is known as the “Father of English Hymnody”, for from his pen came such great hymns as :
When I survey the wondrous cross …
Jesus shall reign where’er the sun …
Joy to the world, the Lord is come …
O God, our help in ages past …
Come ye that love the Lord …
I’m not ashamed to own my Lord …
and a host of others.
During his lifetime he also pastored Mark Lane Congregational Church and wrote numerous volumes on a great variety of themes. But it is for his hymns that he is best remembered.
Isaac Watts died on 26 November, 1748.
This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.