Thursday, March 5, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Isaac Watts

I was asked to play When I Survey the Wondrous Cross at our church in a few week while some friends sing it. And so I decided to start Throwback Thursdays with that song. I found it interesting to study the history of this song and the man who wrote it.
Isaac Watts was born on July 17, 1674, in Southampton England. He was the eldest of nine children. His father, (what is his name?), was in prison at the time of Isaac’s birth, and twice during his infancy, for his non-conformists beliefs.
In Watts’ youth he showed an aptitude for study and at the age of five had learned Latin, by nine Greek, French at eleven and Hebrew at thirteen. (0.o I have yet to learn Spanish well)
He began to write fairly good verses when he was young and when he was sixteen he entered a Nonconformist Academy at Stoke Newington under the care of Mr. Thomas Rowe, the pastor of an independent congregating, and of this congregation Watts became a member in 1693.
One year later, when he was twenty, he left the academy and spent two years at home. Watt grew concerned with the deplorable state to which the congregational singing had degenerated to in most English-speaking churches. They apparently would sing the psalms by having an appointed Deacon read a line or two, which was than followed by the rest of the congregation droning the same line. Watts wrote once, “The singing of God’s praise is the part of worship most closely related to heaven; but its performance among us is the worst on earth.”
One Sunday after his father listened to his rail against the congregational singing he said, “Why don’t you give us something better, young man!” And before the evening service began Watts had written his first Hymn. After that he wrote a new hymn every Sunday for two years.
It was during that time that When I Survey the Wondrous Cross and the bulk of the Hymns and Spiritual Songs was written. It is thought that Behold the glories of the Lamb was the first hymn he composed.
It seems there were five verses, but the fourth verse is commonly omitted in printed versions, a practice that began with George Whitefield in 1757
As an interesting note: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross original title was Crucifixion to the World by the Cross of Christ.
The original title and the 2nd verse reference Galatians 6:14
“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.”

And I will leave you with the 2nd verse of this lovely song.
“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.”

101 Hymn Stories By Kenneth W. Osbeck
Thank you so, so much, Maria, for doing this amazing TBT post for us!!!! :) Didn't she do great? What is your favorite hymn by Isaac Watts? Who would you like to see featured in later TBT posts? 
 Be sure to check out Maria's blog, My Little Insignificant Life ,  for great book reviews and posts only she can write! :)
 Now go change the world!


  1. I'd have to say that "Jesus Shall Reign" is my favorite Watts hymn. Great lyrics and uplifting tune!