|The only statue of Isaac Watts in Abney Park|
After completing his studies at the Academy, Watts spent two and a half years at home during which time he began writing his hymns. Then, in 1698, he preached his first sermon and became the assistant pastor to Isaac Chauncy in the chapel at Mark Lane. By 1702, he became the senior pastor of this congregation. Both Joseph Caryl and John Owen preceded Watts in the pastorate of this church making it a distinguished place of worship.
Watts was not only a pastor, but he also authored numerous works including a catechism and scripture history, philosophical works and his book of poetry "Horae Lyricae" written in 1706. However, his most shining work came in the form of hymns which contemplated God's glory in nature and His revelation in Christ. His hymns were described as a new version of the Psalms.
Isaac Watts felt that few believers ever truly learned to love the cross of Jesus Christ. While the cross offers great deliverance, it also demands great sacrifice. With this in mind, he wrote the powerful hymn "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross". He wanted Christians to be inspired by the words and music so they could genuinely worship the Lord and live holy lives. All in all, he wrote over six hundred hymns in his life time designed to draw the congregation to deeper knowledge and worship of the Lord.
In this particular hymn which was written in 1707 for a Communion service, Watts borrowed music from a Gregorian chant. This was done to emphasize the solemnity of Christ's sacrifice for our sins. The words are timeless and are still sung in church services today.
WHEN I SURVEY THE WONDROUS CROSS
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?
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.
Isaac Watts lived a long life and passed into glory in November of 1748. His legacy of rich hymnody can be seen in most hymnbooks even today.
Recently, my husband and I had the opportunity to speak with a pastor of our denomination who is working with other pastors and musicians to preserve organ music in the church which seems to be fast passing away for the contemporary music found in many churches today. It is my hope and prayer that we never lose the rich heritage of music found in the old hymns of the faith. Selah!
Do you love the old hymns of the faith? If so, what is your favorite hymn?