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Prolific English writer of over 500 hymns including “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” and “Joy to the World”

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The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Philip Schaff Vol. XII:
Abridged and edited for greater clarity.
ISAAC WATTS (1674–1748)
English hymn writer
Founder of English hymnody; born at Southampton, England, July 17, 1674; died, at Stoke Newington Nov. 25, 1748. He obtained an excellent education at Southampton grammar school, then, joining the dissenters, he studied at an academy at Stoke Newington, where he acquired his accuracy of thought and habit of laborious analysis; leaving the academy in 1694, he spent two years at home, beginning his hymn-writing. He was private tutor, 1696-1701; became assistant pastor in the chapel at Mark Lane, 1699, and sole pastor, 1702; because of frequent attacks of illness, Samuel Price had assisted him from 1703 and was chosen copastor 1713; his illness increased with time, but the congregation refused to part with one who had become so famous and beloved. Watts was one of the most popular writers of his time; the Horœ Lyricœ (London, 1706) won him fame as a poet, but it was his hymns that so distinguished him. Many of his hymns continue to be popular today.
  • There Is a Name I Love to Hear (Oh how I love Jesus)
  • Joy to the World, The Lord Is Come
  • When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
  • Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed
  • Come Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove
  • At the Cross
  • We're Marching to Zion
His poetry by giving utterance to the spiritual emotions made hymn singing an earnest devotional power; the success of his hymns was tremendous, the two staple volumes were the Hymns (1707) and the Psalms of David (1719). The various pieces numbered about 600, of which quite a number are still in general use. His best pieces rank among the finest hymns in English. Watts was also the founder of children's hymnology, writing the Divine Songs (1715).

As to his theology, some of his beliefs were far outside orthodoxy. He was opposed in 1719 to the imposition of the doctrine of the Trinity on independent ministers. He held a theory which he hoped might close the breach between Arianism and the faith of the Church; he maintained that the human soul of Christ, created before the world, had been united to the divine principle in the Godhead known as the Sophia or Logos, and that the personality of the Holy Ghost was figurative rather than literal. He held liberal views on education, and his learning and piety attracted a great many.
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