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Isaac Watts
Isaac Watts from NPG.jpg
Portrait by an unknown artist
Born (1674-07-17)17 July 1674
Died 25 November 1748(1748-11-25) (aged 74)
Occupation Hymnwriter, theologian
Known for When I survey the wondrous cross, Joy to the world

Isaac Watts (17 July 1674 – 25 November 1748) was an English pastor, preacher, poet, and hymn writer. He is often called the "Father of English Hymnody": he was the first popular English hymn writer. Because of his short height and large head, in all his portraits Isaac Watts wore a large gown. He wrote about 600 hymns including When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, Am I a Soldier of the Cross, and Joy to the World. He is buried today in Bun­hill Fields Cem­etary, Lon­don, Eng­land.

Isaac Watts was born in 1674 as a small and sickly child. At this time, his father was in prison for being a nonconformist preacher. At that time in England, a man who did not preach the way the leaders of the Church of England thought about God could go to prison. Christians who were dissenters met secretly in fields and barns to hide from people who would report them. Dissenters were fined for preaching anywhere if five or more people were there. Isaac Watts gave much encouragement for people to continue to believe in Christ.


Isaac, even when he was young, was good at and liked rhyming. He was a good student and liked books. Once, when his mother said she would give a farthing (a coin) to one of her husband's students who could make the best rhyme, Isaac tried and made this couplet:

"I write not this for a farthing, but to try
How I your farthing writers can outvie’."

When he was six, he made some verses. When his mother saw them, she could hardly believe he had written them. So Isaac gave his mother a poem he had made with his name:

I am a vile polluted lump of earth
S-o I've continu'd ever since my birth
A-lthough Jehovah grace does daily give me
A-ssure this monster Satan will deceive me
C-ome, therefore, Lord, from Satan's claws relieve me.

W-ash me in thy blood, O Christ
A-nd grace divine impart
T-hen search and try the corners of my heart
T-hat I in all things may be fit to do
S-ervice to thee, and sing thy praises too.


When he was in his early twenties, Isaac saw a need in the church. He told his father that the psalms sung in the church were rough and hard. Isaac's father challenged him to write better songs, and Isaac began writing hymns. Watts produced many hymns for which he is now famous.

Watts also saw that children needed to have hymns that suited their age, hymns that they could sing in their everyday life. Because of this, in 1720 he wrote Divine and Moral Songs, for the Use of Children. These songs were about problems of youth at that time and still today, with titles like Against Evil Company and Against Pride in Clothes.

Watts lived a long and full life preaching about Jesus, teaching, and writing books and hymns. When he died, his papers were given to Yale University.


Some of Isaac Watts' most well known and loved songs are:

  • Joy to the world!
  • Come ye that love the Lord (often sung with the chorus [and titled] "We’re marching to Zion")
  • Come Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove]
  • Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
  • O God, Our Help in Ages Past

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