Isaac Watts, born this day (July 17) in 1674, is one of the greatest hymn writers in the English language. Growing up a Dissenter (his father was imprisoned twice for not being Anglican), Watts was not allowed to attend the best colleges. But he received a good education, and turned his considerable skills to pastoring, theology and biblical interpretation. All of his experiences went into his crafting of hymns. He left us a legacy of unforgettable songs (Joy to the World; 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, and many more). Watts’ poetic settings of the Psalms are an endless source of instruction, as he took up the Old Testament’s prayers and Christianized them with great insight into the full meaning of Scripture. He and his co-laborers prayed and worked earnestly for revival in England in the decades leading up to the great evangelical awakening of the 1740s.
Here is a little-known “acrostic petition” he wrote in the front of one of his Bibles. The first letters of each line spell out his name.
Imortall god in persons three
Sweetly convey thy grace to mee
Aid mee with wisdome from above
And compasse mee about with love
Cover my failings Blest Jehove
Wash off my sins make cleane my hart
And righteousnesse to mee impart
Teach mee to understand aright
Thy sacred word and with delight
Shall I peruse it day and night