Hymns - Jewels From Isaac Watts
February 14, 2024
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061

The pioneering hymn writer of the First Great Awakening was Isaac Watts (1674-1748). 

Known as “the father of English hymnology” and “the first really great hymn-writer in English,” Watts was the author of a nearly complete Psalter and between 600 and 700 hymns.

Watts’ Psalms and hymns were loved by the main figures of the First Great Awakening. His friends included Jonathan Edwards, John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, and Cotton Mather. Edwards “specified the singing of Watts’s hymns as a key element” of the Awakening” (Ronald Rees, A Nation of Singing Birds, p. 21).

Watts’ father was a deacon in a a non-conformist congregation and was jailed twice under King Charles II for meeting without a license. When Isaac was a nursing infant, his mother sat on the steps of the jail waiting for admission to see her husband. Watts’ senior was also a poet. Speaking of those who added tradition to Scripture, he wrote, 

“Why do our churchmen with such zeal contend
For what the Scriptures nowhere recommend?”

Isaac Watts was precocious from childhood. He learned Latin at four, Greek at nine, French at ten, and Hebrew at thirteen. At age seven, he used the letters of his name as an acrostic for the major doctrines of redemption.

"I" - I am a vile, polluted lump of earth
"S" - So I’ve continued ever since my birth
"A" - Although Jehovah, grace doth daily give me
"A" - As sure this monster, Satan, will deceive me
"C" - Come therefore, Lord, from Satan’s claws relieve me.

"W" - Wash me in Thy blood, O Christ
"A" - And grace divine impart
"T" - Then search and try the corners of my heart
"T" - That I in all things may be fit to do
"S" - Service to Thee, and Thy praise too.

(“Isaac Watts,” SongsandHymns.org).

Little Isaac Watts was not only smart, he could be a smart aleck at times. Scolded for making rhymes out of everyday language, he replied, “Oh, Father, do some pity take, and I will no more verses make” (Norman Mable, Popular Hymns and Their Writers).

In 1689, Isaac was converted after “falling under considerable convictions of sin.” 

Isaac followed in his father’s footsteps in refusing to submit to the Church of England. When offered a scholarship to Oxford or Cambridge at age 16, Isaac refused and attended the academy of Stoke Newington, a dissenting school in London operated by Thomas Rowe. His father, John, had preached the thanksgiving sermon before Parliament in October 1656 on the occasion of the destruction of the Spanish fleet (Hood, Isaac Watts).

Returning to Southampton after four years and attending services at the Above Bar meeting house, Isaac was critical of the metrical “Psalms only” philosophy. The services were “very formal and frigid.” When his father said, “Well then, young man, why don’t you give us something better to sing?” Isaac took up the challenge and had a new hymn ready by the evening service. It was well received, and he was encouraged to continue writing. 

Watts was about 22 at the time.

His first hymn was a glorious, eight-stanza tribute to Christ’s vicarious atonement, sovereign power, and eternal reign. The first three stanzas are about God; the next two stanzas are addressed to God the Father; stanzas 6-8 are addressed to Christ. (The last two stanzas are usually omitted from modern hymnals.)

“Behold the Glories of the Lamb,” 1806 (CM)

Isaac Watts

1 Behold the glories of the Lamb

Amidst His Father’s throne;

Prepare new honours for His name,

And songs before unknown.

2 Let elders worship at His feet,

The church adore around,

With vials full of odours sweet,

And harps of sweeter sound.

3 Those are the prayers of the saints,

And these the hymns they raise;

Jesus is kind to our complaints,

He loves to hear our praise.

4 Eternal Father, who shall look

Into Thy secret will?

Who but the Son shall take the book,

And open every seal?

5 He shall fulfil Thy great decrees,

The Son deserves it well;

Lo! in His hand the sovereign keys

Of heaven, and death, and hell.

6 Now to the Lamb that once was slain,

Be endless blessings paid;

Salvation, glory, joy, remain

Forever on Thy head.

7 Thou hast redeemed our souls with blood,

Hast set the prisoners free;

Hast made us kings and priests to God,

And we shall reign with Thee.

8 The worlds of nature and of grace

Are put beneath Thy power; 

Then shorten these delaying days,

And bring the promised hour.

Music Score



In the foreword to Hymns and Spiritual Songs, Watts clearly stated his displeasure with the state of congregational singing in most churches of his day. 

“While we sing the praises of God in His church, we are employed in that part of worship which of all others is the nearest akin to heaven, and 'tis pity that this of all others should be performed the worst upon earth. That very action which should elevate us to the most delightful and divine sensations doth not only flat our devotion but too often awakens our regret and touches all the springs of uneasiness within us.”

Watts’ three-volume Hymns and Spiritual Songs, published in 1707, had 365 hymns. Most are six or more stanzas. An American edition was published by Ben Franklin in Philadelphia in 1741.

Watts’ hymns were designed to be easy to sing.

“His metres and rhymes, now known as hymn metre, were quatrains of four lines of alternating rhyme based on English folk poems and ballads. Set to familiar psalm tunes, and couched in language within reach of an unlearned reader, Watts’ hymns could be sung on first hearing” (Ronald Rees, A Nation of Singing Birds, p. 21). 

He mostly used three meters: Common (CM,, Short (SM,, and Long (LM, This made it possible for his hymns to be sung to a few tunes. 

In 1702, at age 28, Watts was ordained pastor of Mark Lane Chapel (later called Bury Street Church). Though he had to take frequent absences due to ill health, the church grew and twice had to relocate to larger facilities. “For many years he knew little of sleep, except such as could be obtained by medicine (Hood, Isaac Watts). 

Watts was associated with many people connected with Oliver Cromwell, who ruled England as Protector of the Commonwealth from 1653-1658. One was Bridget Bendish, Cromwell’s granddaughter, who was a member of Mark Lane Chapel and had a great admiration for Watts’ hymns. She was said to be “a piece of astonishing eccentricity.” “Her admiration for her grandfather was extraordinary, and no one was permitted in her presence to express a doubt concerning his legitimate sovereignty or essential greatness” (Hood, Isaac Watts). She once challenged a man to a sword fight for disparaging Cromwell!

Watts never married and lived in the household of Sir Thomas Abney for the last 36 years of his life. As a young man, Watts proposed to Elizabeth Singer, an admirer of his poems and hymns, but she turned him down for his short stature and lack of physical attractiveness. Watts put the sad business into God’s hands, writing, “I am persuaded, that in a future state we shall take a sweet review of those scenes of providence, which have been involved in the thickest darkness, and trace those footsteps of God when he walked with us through deepest waters. This will be a surprising delight ... to have those perplexing riddles laid open to the eyes of our souls, and read the full meaning of them in set characters of wisdom and grace.”

Watts was a premillennialist who, based on a literal interpretation of prophecy, believed that Israel would return to the land and be converted. 

Watts taught children and wrote hymns for their theological education. He published Divine Songs: attempted in easy language for the use of children (1715). The content reveals how far we have fallen from the educational and theological standard of his day. Compare the typical Sunday School singing and teaching of our day with Watts’ Song 1:

1 How glorious is our heav'nly King,
Who reigns above the Sky!
How shall a Child presume to sing
His dreadful Majesty?

2 How great his Pow'r is, none can tell,
Nor think how large his Grace;
Not Men below, nor Saints that dwell
On high before his Face.

3 Not Angels that stand round the LORD,
Can search his secret Will;
But they perform his heav'nly Word,
And sing his Praises still.

4 Then let me join this holy Train,
And my first Off'rings bring;
Th' eternal GOD will not disdain
To hear an Infant sing.

5 My Heart resolves, my Tongue obeys,
And Angels shall rejoice,
To hear their mighty Maker's Praise
Sound from a feeble Voice.

Song 2 in Watts’ children’s collection is the familiar adult hymn, “I Sing the Mighty Power of God.” But Watts’ children’s version had 8 stanzas! It is a glorious hymn in praise of God’s creative power and genius and goodness.

1 I Sing th' Almighty Pow'r of GOD,
That made the Mountains rise,
That spread the flowing Seas abroad,
And built the lofty Skies.

2 I sing the Wisdom that ordain'd
The Sun to rule the Day;
The Moon shines full at his Command,
And all the Stars obey

3 I sing the Goodness of the LORD,
That fill'd the Earth with Food;
He form'd the Creatures with his Word,
And then pronounc'd them Good.

4 LORD, how thy Wonders are display'd,
Where'er I turn mine Eye!
If I survey the Ground I tread,
Or gaze upon the Sky!

5 There's not a Plant or Flow'r below,
But makes thy Glories known;
And Clouds arise and Tempests blow,
By Order from thy Throne.

6 Creatures (as num'rous as they be)▪
Are subject to thy Care;
There's not a Place where we can flee,
But GOD is present there.

7 In Heav'n he shines with Beams of Love,
With Wrath in Hell beneath!
'Tis on his Earth I stand or move,
And 'tis his Air I breathe.

8 His Hand is my perpetual Guard;
He keeps me with his Eye:
Why should I then forget the LORD,
Who is for ever nigh?

Watts’ hymns had a great influence on the First Great Awakening. For example, “George Whitefield used Watts’ hymns in his outdoor preaching throughout Georgia and New England.”

Following are some of Isaac Watts’ hymns that have retained their popularity for more than 300 years: 

“Alas! and Did My Saviour Bleed”

“Am I a Soldier of the Cross”

“At the Cross”

“Come, We That Love the Lord”

“I Sing the Mighty Power of God”

“Joy to the World” (from Psalm 98)

“My Dear Redeemer and My Lord”

“O God, Our Help in Ages Past” (paraphrase of Psalm 90)

“We’re Marching to Zion”

“When I Can Read My Title Clear”

“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”

Watts was greatly gifted in expressing Bible theology in hymns.  Some of his lyrics are peerless, in our estimation.

Consider some examples:

Watts on Christ’s cross -

1 When I survey the wond'rous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

2 Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the Death of Christ my God:
All the vain Things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his Blood.

3 See from his Head, his Hands, his Feet,
Sorrow and Love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such Love and Sorrow meet,
Or Thorns compose so rich a Crown?

4 His dying Crimson, like a Robe,
Spreads o’er his Body on the Tree;
Then I am dead to all the Globe,
And all the Globe is dead to me.

5 Were the whole Realm of Nature mine,
That were a Present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my Soul, my Life, my All.

(“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” 1707) 

Watts on God’s grace. In the follow hymn, Watts begins with the sinner’s entirely lost condition, then extols God’s grace in Christ.

1 Lord, we confess our many faults,

How great our guilt has been!

Our thoughts were vain and full of pride

And all our lives were sin.

But praise our God, forever praise,

Forever love His name,

Who turns our feet from dangerous ways

Of folly, sin, and shame.

2 He raised us from the depths of sin,

The gates of gaping hell,

And fixed our standing more secure

Than 'twas before we fell.

The arms of everlasting love

Beneath our souls He placed;

And on the Rock of Ages set

Our slippery footsteps fast.

3 It's not by works of righteousness

Which our own hands have done;

But we are saved by sovereign grace

Abounding through His son.

It's from the mercy of our God

That all our hopes begin;

It's by the water and the blood

Our souls are washed from sin.

4 It's through the purchase of His death

Who hung upon the cross

The Spirit is sent down to breathe

On such dry bones as us.

Raised from the dead, we live anew;

And, justified by grace

We will appear in glory too,

And see our Father's face.

(“It’s All of Grace,” Isaac Watts)

Most hymnals have left out stanza 2 for some reason.

Music score


Watts on Christ’s eternal Sonship, Creatorship, and incarnation - 

1 Ere the blue heavens were stretched abroad,

From everlasting was the Word;

With God he was, the Word was God,

And must divinely be adored.

2 By His own power were all things made;

By Him supported all things stand;

He is the whole creation’s Head,

And angels fly at His command.

3 Ere sin was born or Satan fell,

He led the host of morning stars: 

Thy generations who can tell,

Or count the number of Thy stars.

4 But lo! He leaves those heav'nly forms, 

The Word descends and dwells in clay: 

That He may hold converse with worms, 

Dressed in such feeble flesh as they. 

5 Mortals with joy beheld His face, 

The Eternal Father’s only Son; 

How full of truth! how full of grace! 

When through His eyes the Godhead shone. 

6 Archangels leave their high abode 

To learn new myst’ries here, and tell 

The loves of our descending God, 

The glories of Immanuel.

(“Ere the Blue Heavens,” 1707) 

Watts on heaven’s bliss following earth’s battle and turmoil -

Let cares like a wild deluge come,

Let storms of sorrow fall!

May I but safely reach my home:

My God, my heaven, my all. 

There shall I bathe my weary soul

In seas of heavenly rest,

And not a wave of trouble roll

Across my peaceful breast.

(“When I Can Read My Title Clear,” 1707)

Watts on the comfort of eternal security -

When I can read my title clear

To mansions in the skies,

I bid farewell to every fear,

And wipe my weeping eyes.

(“When I Can Read My Title Clear”)

Watts on God’s power over the seas -

God of the seas! thy thund'ring voice

Makes all the roaring waves rejoice,

And one soft word of thy command

Can sink them silent in the sand.

(“God of the Seas, Thy Thundering Voice”)


Isaac Watts  also published an influential English metrical psalter in 1719. 

He spent 19 years working on his Psalter. 

Watts was a pioneer in adapting the Psalms to New Testament truth. “The aim of Watts in his Book of Psalms was to translate the Old Testament phraseology into a New Testament language and experience” (Hood, Isaac Watts). He wrote, 

“Far be it from my thoughts to lay aside the Book of Psalms in public worship. ... But it must be acknowledged still, that there are a thousand lines in it which were not made for a Church in our Days, to assume as its own. There are also many deficiencies of Light and Glory, which our Lord Jesus and his Apostles have supplied to the Writings of the New Testament. ... You will also find in this Paraphrase dark expressions enlightened, and the Levitical ceremonies and Hebrew forms of speech changed into the Worship of the Gospel, and explained in the language of our time and nation” (Preface, Hymns and Spiritual Songs, 1707). 

He also said, 

“I have not been so curious and exact in striving everywhere to express the ancient sense and meaning of David, but have rather exprest myself as I may suppose David would have done, had he lived in the Days of Christianity. And by this means perhaps I have sometimes hit upon the true Intent of the Spirit of God in those verses farther and clearer than David himself could ever discover, as St. Peter encourages me to hope, 1 Pet. 1:11, 12” (Preface. The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, 1719). 

Watts’ Psalter, with its mere five meters, is an example of singing hymns to simple melodies (“making melody,” Eph. 5:19). 

Watts Psalm 1 

Sung to the common meter,, i.e., “Oh God Our Help in Ages Past,” “Amazing Grace”

1 Blest is the man who shuns the place

Where sinners love to meet;

Who fears to tread their wicked ways,

And hates the scoffer’s seat;

2 But in the statutes of the Lord

Hath placed his chief delight;

By day he reads or hears the Word, 

And meditates by night.

3 He like a plant of gen’rous kind,

By living waters set,

Safe from the storms and blasting wind,

Enjoys a peaceful state.

4 Green as the leaf and ever fair

Shall his profession shine,

While fruits of holiness appear

Like cluster on the vine.

5 Not so the impious and unjust;

What vain designs they form!

Their hopes are blown away like dust,

Or chaff before the storm.

6 Sinners in judgment shall not stand

Amongst the sons of grace,

When Christ the Judge, at His right hand

Appoints His saints a place.

7 His eye beholds the path they tread.

His heart approves it well;

But crooked ways of sinners lead

Down to the gates of hell.

Watts Psalm 24 

Sung to long meter, i.e., “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow”

1 This spacious earth is all the Lord’s,

And men, and worms, and beasts, and birds:

He raised the building on the seas,

And gave it for their dwelling-place.

2 But there’s a brighter world on high,

Thy palace, Lord, above the sky:

Who shall ascend that blest abode,

And dwell so near his maker God?

3 He that abhors and fears to sin,

Whose heart is pure, whose hands are clean,

Him shall the Lord the Saviour bless,

And clothe his soul with righteousness.

4 These are the men redeemed by grace

That seek the God of Jacob’s face;

These shall enjoy the blissful sight,

And dwell in everlasting light.

5 Rejoice, ye shining words on high,
Behold the King of glory nigh!
Who can this King of glory be?
The mighty Lord, the Saviour’s He. 

6 Raised from the dead He goes before,
He opens heav’n’s eternal door,
To give His saints a blest abode
Near their Redeemer, and their God.

Watts Psalm 72

Consider how Watts versified Psalm 72 so that it refers directly to Christ’s millennial rule. The original title was “Christ’s Kingdom among the Gentiles.” It is commonly known as “Jesus Shall Reign” from the first words of Part 2.  In 1762, King George III met with 1,000 chiefs from the South Sea islands who had been converted to “Christianity.” The occasion was a new constitution that “exchanged a heathen for a Christian form of government.” In the service, they sang “Jesus Shall Reign.” This is but a tiny foreview of Christ’s reign over the nations. In 1925, Scottish Olympic gold medalist Eric Liddell sang this psalm at the train station when he departed for his missionary work in China and a martyrs death. “The entire crowd joined him in singing this immortal hymn--everyone singing by memory without hymnals” (Bond, The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts). 

Psalm 72 Part 1

Great God, whose universal sway

The known and unknown worlds obey,

Now give the kingdom to thy Son,

Extend his power, exalt his throne.

Thy sceptre well becomes his hands,

All heav’n submits to his commands;

His justice shall avenge the poor,

And pride and rage prevail no more.

With power be vindicates the just,

And treads th’ oppressor in the dust;

His worship and his fear shall last,

Till hours, and years, and time be past.

As rain on meadows newly mown,

So shall he send his influence down;

His grace on fainting souls distils,

Like heav’nly dew on thirsty hills.

The heathen lands that lie beneath

The shades of overspreading death,

Revive at his first dawning light,

And deserts blossom at the sight.

The saints shall flourish in his days,

Dressed in the robes of joy and praise

Peace, like a river from his throne,

Shall flow to nations yet unknown.

Psalm 72 Part 2

Jesus shall reign where'er the sun

Does his successive journeys run;

His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,

Till moons shall wax and wane no more.

[Behold the islands with their kings,

And Europe her best tribute brings;

From north to south the princes meet,

To pay their homage at his feet.

There Persia, glorious to behold,

There India shines in eastern gold;

And barb'rous nations at his word

Submit, and bow, and own their Lord.]

For him shall endless prayer be made,

And praises throng to crown his head;

His name like sweet perfume shall rise

With every morning sacrifice.

People and realms of every tongue

Dwell on his love with sweetest song;

And infant voices shall proclaim

Their early blessings on his name.

Blessings abound where'er he reigns,

The pris'ner leaps to lose his chains;

The weary find eternal rest,

And all the sons of want are blest.

[Where he displays his healing power

Death and the curse are known no more;

In him the tribes of Adam boast

More blessings than their father lost.

Let every creature rise and bring

Peculiar honors to our King;

Angels descend with songs again,

And earth repeat the long Amen.]

Watts Psalm 100 

The long meter tune ( to Psalm 100 in the Scottish Psalter is called the “Old Hundredth.”

1 Ye nations round the earth, rejoice
Before the Lord, your sovereign King;
Serve him with cheerful heart and voice,
With all your tongues his glory sing.

2 The Lord is God; 'tis he alone
Doth life, and breath, and being give;
We are his work, and not our own,
The sheep that on his pastures live.

3 Enter his gates with songs of joy,
With praises to his courts repair;
And make it your divine employ
To pay your thanks and honors there.

4 The Lord is good, the Lord is kind,
Great is his grace, his mercy sure;
And the whole race of man shall find
His truth from age to age endure.

A good study of Watts’ Psaltery is Singing Psalms with Isaac Watts and a Biography by N.A. Woychuk. It has a biography of Watts and all of his psalms.

“Eternal Power Whose High Abode” 1706

Isaac Watts

Long Meter

1. Eternal power! whose high abode
Becomes the grandeur of a God;
Infinite length! beyond the bounds
Where stars revolve their little rounds.

2. The lowest step about thy seat
Rises too high for Gabriel's feet:
In vain the tall archangel tries
To reach thy height with wondering eyes.

3. Thy dazzling beauties while he sings,
He hides his face behind his wings;
And ranks of shining thrones around
Fall worshipping, and spread the ground.

4. Lord, what shall earth and ashes do?
We would adore our Maker too;
From sin and dust to thee we cry,
“The great, the holy, and the high!”

5. Earth from afar has heard thy fame,
And worms have learnt to lisp thy name:
But, oh! the glories of thy mind
Leave all our soaring thoughts behind.

6. God is in heaven, and men below;
Be short, our tunes; our words be few;
A sacred reverence checks our songs,
And praise sits silent on our tongues

Music score 


Miller - https://hymnary.org/page/fetch/SHOG1914/23/high 

“We Walk by Faith Not by Sight” (“Tis by the Faith of Joys to Come”) 

Isaac Watts

Meter: (Long Meter)

1. We walk thro' deserts dark as night;

Till we arrive at heav'n, our home,

Truth is our guide, and faith our light.

2. The want of sight she well supplies;

She makes the pearly gates appear;

Far into distant worlds she pries,

And brings eternal glories near.

3. Tho' lions roar, and tempests blow,

And rocks and dangers fill the way,

With joy we tread the desert thro',

While faith inspires a heav'nly ray.

Music Score


- Receive these reports by email
- www.wayoflife.org


Sharing Policy: Much of our material is available for free, such as the hundreds of articles at the Way of Life web site. Other items we sell to help fund our expensive literature and foreign church planting ministries. Way of Life's content falls into two categories: sharable and non-sharable. Things that we encourage you to share include the audio sermons, O Timothy magazine, FBIS articles, and the free eVideos and free eBooks. You are welcome to make copies of these at your own expense and share them with friends and family. You may also post parts of reports and/or entire reports to websites, blogs, etc as long as you give proper credit (citation). A link to the original report is very much appreciated as the reports are frequently updated and/or expanded. Things we do not want copied and distributed are "Store" items like the Fundamental Baptist Digital Library, print editions of our books, electronic editions of the books that we sell, the videos that we sell, etc. The items have taken years to produce at enormous expense in time and money, and we use the income from sales to help fund the ministry. We trust that your Christian honesty will preserve the integrity of this policy. "For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward" (1 Timothy 5:18). Questions? support@wayoflife.org

Goal:Distributed by Way of Life Literature Inc., the Fundamental Baptist Information Service is an e-mail posting for Bible-believing Christians. Established in 1974, Way of Life Literature is a fundamental Baptist preaching and publishing ministry based in Bethel Baptist Church, London, Ontario, of which Wilbert Unger is the founding Pastor. Brother Cloud lives in South Asia where he has been a church planting missionary since 1979. Our primary goal with the FBIS is to provide material to assist preachers in the edification and protection of the churches.

Offering: Offerings are welcome if you care to make one. If you have been helped and/or blessed by our material offerings can be mailed or made online with with Visa, Mastercard, Discover, or Paypal. For information see: www.wayoflife.org/about/makeanoffering.html.

Bible College

Way of Life Literature

Publisher of Bible Study Materials

Way of Life Literature

Publisher of Bible Study Materials

Way of Life Bible College