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Today in Church History

July 17

Isaac Watts

Isaac Watts was born on July 17, 1674, in Southampton, Hampshire, England.

The English nonconformist pastor of Mark Lane Chapel in London has been called the “Father of English Hymnody.” The publication of his Hymns and Spiritual Songs was influential in establishing the use of non-inspired song in Protestant worship. His many works include “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and “There is a Land of Pure Delight.” He is best known for his Psalm paraphrases, which include “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past” (based on Psalm 90) and “Jesus Shall Reign” (based on Psalm 2).

During Watts' lifetime, nonconformity would drift toward Unitarianism, and Watts himself displayed anti-trinitarian tendencies, though generally not in the hymns he wrote. Altogether, 41 of his hymns found their way in the first edition of the Trinity Hymnal and 36 in the second edition.

- John Muether

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