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  Isaac Watts (1674-1748)Tuesday, April 23rd, 2024  

Isaac Watts (1674-1748) is known as the father of modern English hymn. As the story goes one Sunday a young Isaac complained to his father about the boring, moody metrical psalms that were sung in the English churches of that time. His father challenged him to write a hymn better suited for the congregation to sing. That day he did and it was sung in church the next Sunday. The masses loved it but the church elders saw it a different way. "Christian congregations have shut out divinely inspired psalms and taken in Watt's flights of fancy."

Isaac Watts was born into a dissenting family as those of that time in England were called who did not belong to the Church of England. Dissenters were by law banned from education at the best schools (Oxford, Cambridge, etc.). Isaac a gifted child (Latin at four, Greek at nine, Hebrew at thirteen) declined to renounce his church attend these schools. Instead he went to a dissenting academy. Sickly all his life, Isaac did not feel the physical power to actually preach until age 24. His active preaching lasted only 10 years but he remained influentially active in his church through correspondence of ideas for sermons and actual sermons to be delivered by others. On rare occasions he still preached to an awe struck crowd, but for the last 30 plus years of his life he was to be known more for his writings than oratory. While alive, he was not so much admired for his hymns as for his theological writings. Friend and critic alike praised his thought and grasp of the infiniteness of the Lord and the universe. Isaac was also well known for his writings on logic. His book on logic was a standard at Oxford (where he could not attend) for more than 100 years.

Isaac Watts wrote over 700 hymns. Nearly fifty are still in hymnals today. Perhaps the best remembered for its association with Christmas is "Joy to the World". What made these hymns so popular in his day and able to last through the centuries? He simplified the words of the Bible for the masses. He wrote for those that could not read hymns that contained the Truth that could be understood in vocal praise. "I have aimed at ease of numbers and smoothness of sound, ... to make the sense plain and obvious." As martin Luther did for the Germans in introducing hymn to the church, Isaac did for the English speaking world. Later as the missionaries carried the Word of God, Isaac's message in hymn was heard throughout the world in many languages.

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