- Watts, Isaac
- ( 1674-1748 )father of modern Protestant hymnodyIsaac Watts was born in Southampton, England. His father was a Puritan deacon who had at times been imprisoned for nonconformist beliefs. Isaac received an education that included Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. He turned down a university scholarship to study for the Anglican ministry, instead attending a small Puritan school, and later joining a Congregationalist church.Watts began to write hymns as a young man, and his church in Southhampton became the site for testing them out. In 1699, he was chosen assistant pastor of a church in London and was ordained in 1702. In 1712, he was forced to retire for health reasons. He moved into the home of SirThomas Abney, and the Abneys served as Watts's patrons for the remaining 36 years of his life.Watts wrote a number of popular books, but he is most remembered for his collections of hymns: Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1707); Divine Songs for Children (1715), the first children's hymnbook; and Psalms of David (1719). He wrote more than 600 hymns, some of which are still popular, such as "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," "Joy to the World," "O God Our Help in Ages Past," and "Alas and Did My Savior Bleed."Watts is not as well known for his non-Trinitarian views. In 1719, he voted against requiring Independent ministers to adhere to the doctrine. He argued that the idea of the Trinity was a limited attempt to explain the mystery of the Godhead. He suggested that the human soul of Jesus had been created before the world and only later united with the Logos principle in the Godhead. He also argued that the Holy Spirit was not a person in the same literal sense as God the Father and God the Son.Watts also floated a proposal to unite Congre-gationalists and the Baptists; the former would abandon infant baptism and the later baptism by immersion. In spite of his questionable doctrinal stands, Watts's two didactic manuals, the Catechisms (1730) and Scripture History (1732) were widely used by Puritans for the next century, and his hymns remain popular to the present.Watts set the stage for the prolific hymn production of Charles Wesley (1707-88), his younger contemporary. Watts's hymns help break the mode of using only Psalms as the text for hymns, though several of his more popular hymns were, in fact, rephrased Psalms, such as "Joy to the World" (Psalm 98) and "O God Our Help in Ages Past" (Psalm 90).Further reading:■ Selma L. Bishop, Isaac Watts' Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1707): A Publishing History and a Bibliography (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Pierian Press, 1974)■ Arthur Paul Davis, Isaac Watts: His Life and Works (New York: Dryden Press, 1943)■ Jane Stuart Smith and Betty Carlson, Great Christian Hymn Writers (Wheaton, 111.: Crossway Books, 1997)■ Isaac Watts, Hymns and Spiritual Songs (Southampton, U.K.: Mayflower Christian Books, 2003).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.