Isaac Watts (1674-1748) was an English clergyman—but a Dissenter (not a member of the Church of England). As a Dissenter, he wasn’t eligible to attend Cambridge or Oxford, but was nevertheless able to complete his studies at an academy run by like-minded Christians.
Watts was a remarkable man in many ways, but was especially remarkable in his ability to use rhyme. Even as a child, he would often carry on normal conversations in rhyme.
Watts used his rhyming ability to good service by writing hymns—more than 600 total—some of which are still in use today. Examples include “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and “Come, We that Love the Lord” (also known as “We’re Marching to Zion”).
Benjamin Franklin was among the publishers who published Watts’ songs in America. While Watts was recognized as the “Father of English Hymnody”—his hymns were equally popular in America.
Watt’s song, “Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed”, played a role in the conversion of Fanny Crosby in 1851, long after Watts’ death. She had attended a revival meeting at John Street Methodist Church in New York City. When singing the fifth verse, a light came on in her heart when she sang, “Here, Lord, I give myself away.” She decided on the spot to do just that—to give herself without reservation to the Lord—and went on to become one of the greatest Christian hymn writers of all time.
Watts was also a pastor. After serving several years as the assistant pastor of a London congregation, he became the senior pastor. He served in that capacity for ten years, when ill health forced him to resign. Sir Thomas Abney and his wife invited Watts to stay in their home, and Watts lived there until his death more than three decades later.
Copyright, 2014, Richard Niell Donovan