Friday, January 29, 2010

Isaac Watts (1674 - 1748)

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, the original post is from my blog) In 1707, the 33 year old Isaac Watts published his first hymn book. His father was a nonconformist minister in England who had been imprisoned twice for his faith, but Isaac had long been concerned by the dismal singing in the church. Until then, only Psalms were sung.

But taking inspiration from both Ephesians 5v19 "...psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord..." and also Colossians 3v16 "...teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God..." he, logically, entitled his collection "Hymns and Spiritual Songs". (download link here)

He faced massive opposition, with some people describing his works as "whims" rather than hymns. He even suffered a nervous breakdown in 1712 such was the torrent of opposition he faced. In 1739 he had a stroke - but carried on writing with the help of a secretary.

Here's a list of 787 of his most famous hymns, some of which are still being sung today, such as:
- When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
- O God Our Help in Ages Past (the "anthem" hymn of the Ulster Covenant in 1912)
- We're Marching to Zion
- I'm Not Ashamed to Own My Lord

Here's a great video summarising his life: