He who sings prays twice. St. Augustine of Hippo
As we discussed earlier when we looked at two of his other classics, Jesus Shall Reign Where’er The Sun and O God, Our Help In Ages Past, Isaac Watts has become known as the Father of English Hymnody, penning over eight hundred hymns throughout his lifetime (1674-1748). While German reformers such as Martin Luther, Martin Rinkart, and others broke ground for the modern hymn long before 16th and 17th centuries, it was English-speaking Isaac Watts who is credited for opening the door to the type of hymns you and I are most familiar with today.
Let me recall for you the entertaining story that has long been associated with the young Isaac Watts and his strong motivation to write new songs for the people of God to sing. In Watts’ day, worshippers in both the established Church of England and the Independent (Dissenting) Churches, (of which Watts’ father was a strong defender of), were accustomed to singing to metered renditions of the Psalms, intoned by a cantor and then repeated by the congregation.
One afternoon, after yet another worship service filled with lamentable singing, Isaac told his father, “The singing of God’s praise is the part of worship nighest heaven, and its performance among us is the worst on earth.” As the story goes, Isaac’s father, fed up with his son’s constant complaining about the quality of singing at their church, rebuked Isaac saying, “Give us something better, young man!” One historian states what happened next:
Before the evening service, Isaac had written his first hymn:
Behold the glories of the Lamb,
Amidst His Father’s throne;
Prepare new honors for His name,
And songs before unknown
The hymn was lined out and sung that night at the Independents’ meeting, Southampton – that is, read line by line by the clerk and sung after him, line by line, by the congregation. Thus began the Revolution.
A new way to do an ancient thing.
And Isaac Watts’ was the brave soul who fired the first shot of a religious war that still continues to this day. As I see it, there is a massive difference between Relationship with Christ and the Religion we call Christianity. Religion says do something because we’ve always done it that way. Relationship with Christ says do something because Jesus of Nazareth is simply asking us to do it.
In Isaac Watt’s generation, there were men and women who boldly shook the Tree of the Righteous so that Relationship with Christ could prevail over Religion. Thus Isaac Watts wrote hymns like When I Survey The Wondrous Cross and countless others that allowed the people of God to better access the throne of God.
As we mentioned earlier in this blog series, one historian called the music of Isaac Watts “the hymns of human composure.” This means that Watts wrote his lyrics in simple meter, using a rhythmic style that the everyday man or woman could easily sing and to which any church organist could easily adapt any simple melody to. Thank God in 1707, Isaac Watts sat down and composed this hymn of which Charles Wesley once said, “I would give up all my other hymns to have written this one”…
When I survey the wondrous cross,
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
My prayer: Father God, I’m speechless after I sing the words of this great hymn. Thank You for this amazing treasure that has been retained and preserved for me. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: How might the Cross of Christ so touch my senses that I might be able to create a piece of art, a writing, a song, a work that could speak, with the help of God, with the same power and depth as this amazing hymn from 1707?
So what is God speaking to you today as we ponder together 30 Great Hymns of Faith?
Between now and Easter 2016, we will be sharing with you this blog series we call Thirty Great Hymns of Faith. In order to keep all 34 blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Thirty Great Hymns of Faith home page for ease of use. ENJOY!
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