Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Happy Birthday, Isaac Watts!

Today is the birthday in 1698 of the renowned Christian hymn writer and pastor, Isaac Watts. Centuries of Christians have found deep comfort in Watts’s elevated verse in hymns like my personal favorites: “Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed?,” "Before Jehovah’s Awful Throne,” "From All that Dwell Below the Skies,” “Give to Our God Immortal Praise,” “How Sweet and Awesome Is This Place,” “Jesus Shall Reign,” “O Bless the Lord My Soul,” “Teach Me the Measure of My Days,” and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” Even the unchurched will remember having sung “Joy to the World” at some time in their lives.

Isaac Watts wrote over 500 hymns. Not only a writer for adults, Watts also wrote a large collection of “children’s” verse, Divine and Moral Songs for Children.* One of the more practical is Song 19, “Against Swearing, and Cursing, and Taking God's Name in Vain.”

Angels, that high in glory dwell,
Adore thy name, Almighty God!
And devils tremble down in hell,
Beneath the terrors of thy rod.
And yet, how wicked children dare,
Abuse thy dreadful glorious name;
And when they're angry, how they swear,
And curse their fellows, and blaspheme.
How will they stand before thy face
Who treated thee with such disdain,
While thou shalt doom them to the place
Of everlasting fire and pain?
Then never shall one cooling drop
To quench their burning tongues be giv'n;
But I will praise thee here, and hope
Thus to employ my tongue in heav'n.
My heart shall be in pain to hear
Wretches affront the Lord above:
Tis that great God whose pow'r I fear;
That heav'nly Father whom I love.
If my companions grow profane,
I'll leave their friendship when I hear
Young sinners take thy name in vain,
And learn to curse and learn to swear.

*First Published In 1715, the original title is Divine Songs Attempted In Easy Language, For The Use Of Children With Some Additional Composures. These are available from Project Gutenberg. Sadly, you'll have to search for Watts's numerous "adult" hymns in old hymnals, since the contemporary church seems to have taken an aversion to the oldies of our Christian heritage. Thankfully, though, most of these still can be tracked down online.

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