Posted by: rcottrill | November 25, 2010

Today in 1748 – Isaac Watts Died

Graphic Isaac WattsThe eldest of nine children, Isaac Watts was in frail health all of his life. And standing only five feet tall, with a large head, and a long hooked nose, he was not a physically imposing figure. He proposed marriage to a young woman named Elizabeth Singer, but she turned him down, saying, “Mr. Watts, I only wish I could admire the casket [the jewelry box] as much as I admire the jewel!” Rather than face such humiliation again, Watts became a lifelong bachelor.

But Isaac Watts was a genius. Sometimes that word is applied carelessly, but in this case it fits. As a boy, he was learning Latin at the age of four or five, Greek at the age of nine, French at twelve, and Hebrew by the time he was thirteen. He wrote 52 scholarly works on theology, and other subjects. His book on logic was used as a university text for the next century. (For more about Dr. Watts and his hymns, see Today in 1674.)

Yet with all his many accomplishments as an author and a pastor, it is Dr. Watts’s amazing facility with poetry that has left a lasting imprint on history. Known today as the “Father of English Hymnody,” he eventually wrote nearly 800 hymns (the Cyber Hymnal lists 787). His hymns are often strongly doctrinal, but he could express tender emotion too, as he does in this lovely lullaby, or Christmas hymn:

Hush, my dear, lie still and slumber,
Holy angels guard thy bed,
Heav’nly blessings without number,
Gently falling on thy head.
How much better thou art tended,
Than the Son of God could be,
When from heaven He descended,
And became a child like thee!

Soft and easy is thy cradle,
Coarse and hard thy Saviour lay:
When His birthplace was a stable,
And His softest bed was hay.
Oh, to tell the wondrous story,
How His foes abused their King;
How they killed the Lord of glory,
Makes me angry while I sing.

And Watts wrote children’s hymns as well, though we might not think of them as such today. There is nothing of the trite shallowness of Climb, Climb Up Sunshine Mountain in his song about creation, I Sing the Mighty Power of God, appearing in his book Divine Songs attempted in Easy Language, for the Use of Children–the first English hymnal written especially for children.

I sing the mighty power of God, that made the mountains rise,
That spread the flowing seas abroad, and built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom that ordained the sun to rule the day;
The moon shines full at God’s command, and all the stars obey.

Join All the Glorious Names is a hymn Watts published in 1707, calling it originally Offices of Christ. In it, he extols the Lord Jesus Christ using some of His names and titles as found in Scripture. However, he confesses these are too limited to describe the infinite greatness of the Son of God.

Join all the glorious names
Of wisdom, love, and power,
That ever mortals knew,
That angels ever bore:
All are too mean to speak His worth,
Too poor to set my Savior forth.

It is worthwhile to pause a moment and record Isaac Watts’s words on his deathbed. They reveal the faith and dedication of this great servant of God. To the one attending him he said:

If God should raise me up again, I may finish some more of my papers, or God can make use of me to save a soul, and that will be worth living for. If God has no more service for me to do, through grace I am ready; it is a great mercy to me that I have no manner of fear or dread of death….I trust all my sins are pardoned through the blood of Christ….I have no fear of dying.

(2) Today in 1871 – Mabel Camp Born
Mabel Johnston, a banker’s daughter, was a gifted pianist and alto soloist. She married a lawyer named Norman Camp, and they both came to Christ in Bible classes taught by an outstanding American Bible teacher named William Newell. She and her husband attended Moody Church in Chicago. Mrs. Camp composed tunes for the songs of others, as with the hymn I Know of a Name, and she wrote gospel songs herself, such as He Is Coming Again (published in 1913).

Lift up your heads, pilgrims aweary,
See day’s approach now crimson the sky;
Night shadows flee, and your Belovèd,
Awaited with longing, at last draweth nigh.

He is coming again, He is coming again,
The very same Jesus, rejected of men;
He is coming again, He is coming again,
With power and great glory, He is coming again!

(3) Today in 1929 – Elisha Hoffman Died
Elisha Albright Hoffman was the son of a clergyman, and he followed in his father’s footsteps,  pastoring churches in Ohio, Michigan and Illinois. He also wrote over 2,000 gospel songs, usually providing both words and music, and he edited 50 song books. Among the lyrics Hoffman wrote are:

Are You Washed in the Blood?
Down at the Cross
I Must Tell Jesus
Is Thy Heart Right with God?
Is Your All on the Altar?
Leaning on the Everlasting Arms
What a Wonderful Saviour!

The latter hymn was published in 1891. It repeats the title phrase many times. But the repetition (as in the case of his song I Must Tell Jesus) helps to emphasize the point. Christ is a wonderful Saviour!

Christ has for sin atonement made
What a wonderful Saviour!
We are redeemed, the price is paid
What a wonderful Saviour!

What a wonderful Saviour is Jesus, my Jesus!
What a wonderful Saviour is Jesus, my Lord!


  1. Listen to “Are You Washed In The Blood” at

    It is a good hymn. Without the blood of the Lamb, there is no redemption from sins.

    • I agree, Christopher. “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission [no forgiveness]” (Heb. 9:22). And it’s Christ Himself who declares, when He introduces the Lord’s Supper, that it is His blood that’s shed for the remission of sins (Matt. 26:28). God bless.

  2. […] writer (with over 2,000 songs to his credit). For a bit more about him, see the third item under Today in 1748. And here are just a few of Pastor Hoffman’s […]

  3. […] most hymn books contain quite a number of them. (For a bit more about this significant figure, see Today in 1748.) Here is a sampling of the songs of Isaac Watts still in […]

  4. Bro. Cottrill: I used to get your blog posted to Google Reader every day, but I have not had any post other than the “Ministry Begins at Home” post show up since Nov. 7. Has something changed about your blog postings or do you know what I can do to get them to show up again?

    • Really sorrow to hear that the blog is not coming through as before. I’m not sure what the problem might be. I have posted blogs every single day, and as far as I know there has been no technical change behind the scenes–unless it is some change a WordPress. Wish I could help you, but I have no suggestions at the moment. Have you tried deleting and reinstalling the Google Reader connection? Don’t know much about that end of things.

  5. […] Wordwise Hymns (about Isaac Watts) The Cyber […]

  6. […] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber […]

  7. […] Wordwise Hymns (Hoffman’s birth and death) The Cyber […]


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