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Review: The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts by Douglas Bond

 

The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts

Even though many of his hymns are still loved and sung, Isaac Watts himself, the ‘Father of English Hymnody’ is not well known.  Who was he?  Why did he write his hymns?  What influenced him? Is his work still important today?

Douglas Bond, who attributes a deeply emotional conversion experience to Watts’ hymn ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,’ answers these questions and more in The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts.

Martin Luther said that, “We need poets in a reformation,” and Bond uses that to suggest that all Christians need the poetry of Isaac Watts.

  • We need his poetry in our lives to revitalize our understanding and our imagination.
  • Our culture needs his hymns in our churches to help us reform our singing.
  • We all need his example of patience during suffering as we live our lives.

Watts was born soon after the Great Plague, his father was imprisoned for being a non-conformist, and he was surrounded by Huguenots who had escaped from French persecution.  At a young age he learned that life was not easy.  Yet his father, a learned and godly man, encouraged his children to praise God and to avoid bitterness.  Isaac’s native love of rhyme and rhythm combined with these influences and he began to write hymns and devotional poetry at a very young age.

Though the messages at the dissenting church that Watts attended as a youth were always good, the singing was apparently not.  Once, when Isaac complained about the ‘ugly hymns’ they had just sung, his father sternly pointed out, “If you do not like the hymns, young man, then give us something better.”  That afternoon he produced a fine hymn, soon the congregation sang it, and so began his life as a hymn-writer.

He kept on writing hymns, while a student, while a tutor, and later while a minister.  Drawing his inspiration from the Bible, he versified Psalms and other portions of the Bible, always showing how the passage, whether from the Old Testament or the New, referred to Christ.  When he was a preacher, he wrote hymns to accompany his preaching, hymns full of Biblical truth as well as emotion.

Bond goes through many of the hymns Watts wrote including those for children, those based on theological issues, and those based on the Psalms, discussing their meaning, origin, and style.  Watts wrote much of his children’s poetry to fulfill a friend’s request for an effective way of teaching children Bible knowledge, again always referring to Christ.  He presented some of the most difficult ideas of the Bible in hymns that moved even those who disagreed with him.  In my opinion, his work on the Psalms produced some of his most beautiful hymns, and I love the way Bond goes through them verse by verse:

Watts was more than a great hymn writer.  He was also a devoted tutor, a lover of God’s creation, a dedicated preacher, a gentle pastor, and a man who patiently suffered both pain and illness during much of his life.  He prayed.  He praised.  And in all he did, he sought to serve his Lord.

Bond’s deeply emotional attachment to Isaac Watts who was, in a sense, his spiritual father, makes this an unusual book.  He defends Watts against all accusations, whether contemporary or modern, and at the end of each chapter he draws out lessons for the reader from Watts’ life and experiences.  This could all be overwhelming, but because his love for Watts is so sincere, it only adds to the book.

I recommend The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts by Douglas Bond to any teen or adult who loves the hymns Watts wrote.  It will also appeal to those interested in church music, poetry, British church history, and Christian biographies.  I, myself, really appreciated learning how Watts saw Christ in all parts of the Bible and God in all parts of nature, and how he worked with words, rhymes, and rhythms to help others both see and feel the same.

This is yet another book in the in the 2015 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge and is also linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, Finishing Strong,Trivium Tuesdays.  For more encouragement, visit Coffee for Your Heart, Raising Homemakers, Titus 2 Tuesday, Works for Me Wednesday, Mom to Mom Monday, Monday’s Musings, Missional WeekendR&R Wednesdays, From House to Home, Homemaking Mondays, Good Morning Mondays, Make Your Home Sing Mondays, Faith Filled Fridays.

Disclosure: I receive a free review copy of this book from Reformation Trust Publishing.

9 Comments

  1. I read this about a year ago and was fascinated by so many aspects of this book but was perhaps most struck by the quality of the non-conformist academy that Watts attended. Watts was able to produce a textbook that Oxford and Cambridge used for years. Probably a challenge to us, as home educators, to educate to standards as high or higher than those of conventional education around us.

    You reminded me to look out some of Watts’ poems for children.

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Yes, the education he received was remarkable! He learned at his academy, but he also learned a lot about learning when he was a tutor. We homeschool moms can follow his example and put so much energy into our homeschooling as well…but then my family says I am too intense and should so something else. In any case, it is a good goal to aspire to.

  2. Cathy says:

    I’ve heard of Isaac Watts and knew he had written Joy to the World but I don’t know much about his life. This books sounds really interesting and I loved your review of it! Will have to check it out. : )

  3. I have enjoyed many of Isaac Watts’ hymns, and I love this kind of biographical work. I particularly love that his father turned Isaac’s complaining into a life calling. I want to be the kind of parent who helps my kids be fixers of problems they see rather than people who just complain about them! Thanks for sharing this at Booknificent Thursday!
    Tina

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Yes, Tina, his father was amazing. Actually, there’s a lovely story about his mother, too. It is definitely a book worth reading.

  4. Thank you SO much for sharing this wonderful review at The Book Nook at Create With Joy!

    The older I get, the more I appreciate the great hymns of the past, and this sounds like a book I would truly enjoy reading!

    You did a wonderful job of sparking great interest in Issac Watt’s life,

    Have a wonderful weekend – and I’d be thrilled if you would consider spreading the word about The Book Nook at Create With Joy through your blog! 🙂

  5. Angela says:

    Wow, great review! I will definitely be reading this soon. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Sara says:

    What a fascinating history of a man who wrote so many hymns I love! Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  7. Annie Kate says:

    Thank you for your encouragement, ladies! I’m sure you will all enjoy reading more about Isaac Watts.

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