26 November 1748
God of truth and grace, you gave Isaac Watts singular gifts to present your praise in verse, that he might write psalms, hymns and spiritual songs for your Church: Give us grace joyfully to sing your praises now and in the life to come; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
From the Satucket Lectionary
Isaac Watts (17 July 1674 – 25 November 1748) is recognised as the “Father of English Hymnody“, as he was the first prolific and popular English hymnwriter, credited with some 750 hymns. Many of his hymns remain in active use today and have been translated into many languages.
Watts, unable to go to either Oxford or Cambridge due to his Non-conformity, went to the Dissenting Academy at Stoke Newington in 1690, and much of his life centred around that village, then a rural idyll but now part of Inner London. He held religious opinions that were more non-denominational or ecumenical than was at that time common for a non-conformist, having a greater interest in promoting education and scholarship, than preaching for any particular ministry.
Sacred music scholar Stephen Marini describes the ways in which Watts contributed to English hymnody. Notably, Watts led the way in the inclusion in worship of “original songs of Christian experience”; that is, new poetry. The older tradition limited itself to the poetry of the Bible, notably the Psalms. This stemmed from the teachings of the 16th century Reformation leader John Calvin, who initiated the practice of creating verse translations of the Psalms in the vernacular for congregational singing. Watts’ introduction of extra-Biblical poetry opened up a new era of Protestant hymnody as other poets followed in his path.
Watts also introduced a new way of rendering the Psalms in verse for church services. Watts proposed that the metrical translations of the Psalms as sung by Protestant Christians should give them a specifically Christian perspective.
Besides being a famous hymn-writer, Isaac Watts was also a renowned theologian and logician, writing many books and essays on these subjects. Watts was the author of a text book on logic which was particularly popular; its full title was, Logic, or The Right Use of Reason in the Enquiry After Truth With a Variety of Rules to Guard Against Error in the Affairs of Religion and Human Life, as well as in the Sciences. This was first published in 1724, and its popularity ensured that it went through twenty editions.
Some of Watts’ more well-known hymns are:
- Joy to the world! (arranged by Lowell Mason to an older melody originating from Handel)
- Come ye that love the Lord (often sung with the chorus [and titled] “We’re marching to Zion”)
- Come Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove
- Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
- O God, Our Help in Ages Past
- When I survey the wondrous cross
- Alas! and did my Saviour bleed
- This is the day the Lord has made
more at Wikipedia