Isaac Watts

Born July 17, 1674, died November 25, 1748, Isaac Watts was an English hymn-writer, theologian and logician. He was recognized as the “Father of English Hymnody”, as he was the first prolific and popular English hymn writer, credited with some 750 hymns. Many of his hymns remain in active use today and are considered by many to be some of the most enduring favorites. Some of these hymns have been translated into many languages.

“Joy To The World” and “At The Cross” are perfect examples of his timeless works. The are utterly unique, and though written over 300 years ago, are such a brilliant musical creation that they can still sound completely contemporary.

Born in Southampton, England, in 1674, Watts was brought up in the home of a committed Nonconformist — his father, also Isaac Watts, had been incarcerated twice for his controversial views. At King Edward VI School (where one of the houses is now named “Watts” in his honour), he learned Latin, Greek and Hebrew.

He died in Stoke Newington and was buried in Bunhill Fields, having left behind him a massive legacy, not only of hymns, but also of treatises, educational works, essays and the like. His work was influential amongst independents and early religious revivalists in his circle, amongst who was Philip Doddridge, who dedicated his best known work to Watts. On his death, Isaac Watts’ papers were given to Yale University, an institution with which he was connected because of its being founded predominantly by fellow Independents (Congregationalists).

The following are some of his well-known works:

  • Joy to the world (arranged by Lowell Mason to an older melody originating from Handel)
  • At The Cross (where I first saw the light)
  • 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’re the sun
  • O God, Our Help in Ages Past
  • When I survey the wondrous cross
  • This is the day the Lord has made
  • ‘Tis by Thy strength the mountains stand
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