Biography of Isaac Watts
Isaac Watts (17 July 1674 – 25 November 1748) was an English hymnwriter, theologian and logician. A prolific and popular hymnwriter, he was recognised as the "Father of English Hymnody", credited with some 650 hymns. Many of his hymns remain in use today, and have been translated into many languages.
Born in Southampton, England, in 1674, Watts was brought up in the home of a committed religious 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), Watts learned Latin, Greek and Hebrew. From an early age, Watts displayed a propensity for rhyme.
Watts, unable to go to either Oxford or Cambridge on account of his non-conformity, went to the Dissenting Academy at Stoke Newington in 1690, and much of his life centred around that village, which is now part of Inner London.
His education led him to the pastorate of a large independent chapel in London, where he found himself in the position of helping trainee preachers, despite his poor health. Taking work as a private tutor, Watts lived with the Nonconformist Hartopp family at Fleetwood House, on Church Street in Stoke Newington, and later in the household of their immediate neighbours Sir Thomas Abney and Lady Mary. Though a Nonconformist, Sir Thomas practised occasional conformity to the Church of England, as necessitated by his being Lord Mayor of London between 1700 and 1701. Likewise, Isaac Watts held religious opinions that were more non-denominational or ecumenical than was at that time common for a Nonconformist; he had a greater interest in promoting education and scholarship than preaching for any particular ministry.
On the death of Sir Thomas Abney, Watts moved permanently with his widow and her remaining unmarried daughter, Elizabeth, to Abney House in Stoke Newington, a property that Mary had inherited from her brother. He lived there from 1748 to his death. The grounds at Abney Park led down to an island heronry in the Hackney Brook, where he sought inspiration for the many books and hymns he wrote.
Watts died in Stoke Newington in 1748, and was buried in Bunhill Fields, having left an extensive legacy of hymns, treatises, educational works and essays. His work was influential amongst Nonconformist independents and early religious revivalists, such as Philip Doddridge, who dedicated his best known work to Watts. On his death, Isaac Watts' papers were given to Yale University in then-colonial Connecticut.
Isaac Watts's Works:
The Improvement of the Mind - first three chapters as text from Wikisource - 1815 Edition s:The Improvement of the Mind
The Improvement of the Mind Vol 1 Vol 2 at The Internet Archive
The Knowledge of the Heavens and the Earth Made Easy ..., first edition, 1726; 1760 edition at Google Books
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
A Short View of the Whole Scripture History: With a Continuation of the Jewish Affairs From the Old Testament Till the Time of Christ; and an Account of the Chief Prophesies that Relate to Him
Apparently, Watts is thought to have been the author of the tract: An Essay on the Freedom of Will in God and Creatures (copy on The Internet Archive).
Some of Watts' hymns include:
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
'Tis by Thy strength the mountains stand
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Isaac Watts Poems
Against Idleness and Mischief
How doth the little busy Bee Improve each shining Hour, And gather Honey all the day From every opening Flower!
O 'tis a lovely thing for youth To early walk in wisdom's way; To fear a lie, to speak the truth, That we may trust to all they say!
Against Quarreling and Fighting
Let dogs delight to bark and bite, For God hath made them so: Let bears and lions growl and fight, For 'tis their nature, too.
Against Evil Company
Why should I join with those in Play, In whom I've no delight, Who curse and swear, but never pray, Who call ill Names, and fight.
Against Scoffing and Calling Names
Our tongues were made to bless the Lord, And not speak ill of men: When others give a railing word, We must not rail again.
The Beatitudes. Mt. 5:3-12.
Believe and be saved. John 3:16-18.
Examples of Early Piety
What blest examples do I find Writ in the Word of Truth Of children that began to mind Religion in their youth!
A new song to the Lamb that was slain. Rev. 5:6-12
The value of Christ, and his righteousness. Phil. 3:7-9.
Joy in heaven for a repenting sinner. Luke 15:7,10.
The humble enlightened, and carnal reason humbled. Luke 10:21,22.
Dead to sin by the cross of Christ. Rom. 6:1,2,6.
The fall and recovery of man; or, Christ and Satan at enmity. Gen. 3:1,15,17; Gal. 4:4; Col. 2:15.
The glory of God in creation and providence.
My soul, thy great Creator praise:
When clothed in his celestial rays,
He in full majesty appears,
And, like a robe, his glory wears.
The heav'ns are for his curtains spread,
The unfathomed deep he makes his bed.