As many of you know, I am not very musical, but I do like a good hymn, and can appreciate those who wrote the words – and the music.
Today the church calendar remembers Isaac Watts, who died in 1748, a prolific hymn writer. It’s ironic that we do, because he was a Dissenter, part of a Protestant movement that never quite agreed with Church of England practise and theology, and those who effectively disagreed with the established Church were subsequently banned from many public offices until the mid-1800’s. Isaac was born and brought up in Southampton where he had a classical education, but could not go to Oxford or Cambridge, so attended a non-conformist academy in Stoke Newington, London, where he trained for the Non-conformist ministry.
He was appointed chaplain to a chapel in London for 10 years, but ill health meant he became a chaplain and tutor to a private family. There he was able to develop his hymn writing – he wrote 750 of them and he wrote many important theological books which were widely used for the next 100 years.
He wrote hymns such as Joy to the world, Jesus shall reign where’re the sun – with that line I thought odd as a child: “bring, peculiar honours to our king” until it was explained that meant the special gifts we each have.
He wrote When I survey the wondrous cross – and one we sang a week or two ago, O God our help in ages past.
What a debt we owe to hymn writers past and present summarising Bible truths, and helping us as we sing to honour God.
Which are your favourite hymns, and do you know who wrote them, not just in centuries past, but through our lifetimes, and now?
or Matt Redman