“Ye worship ye know not what… the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.“
— John 4:22-24
Born: July 17, 1674, Southampton, England.
Died: November 25, 1748, Stoke Newington, England.
Buried: Bunhill Fields Cemetery, London, England. John Bunyan, Joseph Hart John Rippon, and William Shrubsole lie nearby.
Watts’ father was Nonconformist imprisoned twice for his religious views. Isaac learned Greek, Latin, and Hebrew under Mr. Pinhorn, rector of All Saints, and headmaster of the Grammar School in Southampton. Isaac’s taste for verse showed itself in early childhood, and his promise caused a local doctor and other friends to offer him a university education, assuming he would be ordained in the Church of England. However, Isaac declined and instead entered a Nonconformist Academy at Stoke Newington in 1690, under the care of Thomas Rowe, pastor of the Independent congregation at Girdlers’ Hall; Isaac joined this congregation in 1693.
Watts left the Academy at age twenty and spent two years at home; it was during this period that he wrote the bulk of his Hymns and Spiritual Songs. They were sung from manuscripts in the Southampton Chapel, and published 1707-1709.
The next six years of his life were again spent at Stoke Newington, working as tutor to the son of eminent Puritan John Hartopp. The intense study of these years is reflected in the theological and philosophical material he subsequently published.
Watts preached his first sermon at age twenty-four. In the next three years, he preached frequently, and in 1702 was ordained as pastor of the Independent congregation in Mark Lane. At that time he moved into the house of a Mr. Hollis in the Minories. His health began to fail the next year, and Samuel Price was appointed as his assistant in the ministry. In 1712, a fever shattered his constitution, and Price became co-pastor of the congregation, which had moved to a new chapel in Bury Street. It was at this time that Isaac became the guest of Sir Thomas Abney. He lived with Abney (and later Abney’s widow) the rest of his life, mainly at Theobalds in Herts, then for thirteen years at Stoke Newington.
Alas! And Did My Saviour Bleed
Alas! and did my Saviour bleed
And did my sov’reign die?
Would He devote that sacred Head
For sinners such as I?
Was it for sins that I have done
He suffered on the tree?
Amazing pity! Grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!
Well might the sun in darkness hide
And shut his glories in,
When Christ, the great Redeemer, died
For man the creature’s sin.
Thus might I hide my blushing face
While His dear cross appears,
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
And melt mine eyes to tears.
But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe;
Here, Lord, I give myself away
‘Tis all that I can do.
Isaac Watts, 1707