Issac Watts and the Psalms – The Oldest Book I Own

In the 18th century, Isaac Watts reshaped the world of music by introducing churches to new religious poetry intended to be sung by the entire congregation – until then, they were mostly just singing the Psalms.

Like others before him, Watts had already translated the Psalms into (then) contemporary English so that churches could sing them and understand them better. Watts published a book containing his versions of the Psalms that also included many of his own original works – and I happen to have a copy of that book.

It was published in 1821, more than thirty years after Watts’ death, and it is by far the oldest book I own. (Probably the only one I own from that century, but I have a lot of books from the first two decades of the twentieth century.)

I have cats. It stays in the bag.

It’s a tiny book with a lot of pages. I don’t think people always made books that small, back in the day, but this one is remarkable for its tiny size. It’s also in pretty good shape for such an old thing.

Yeah, my hand’s that huge. I’m pretty much a giant.

Now you know why so many early protestant ministers are pictured wearing bifocals.

This book reminds me to think outside of the box.

If a certain thing is the best thing to do then don’t worry if no one else is doing it – just do it.

Watts was the only person writing music in his way and plenty of people didn’t think it was best for the church. Those people would think differently, today, if they could see how his words still influence Christianity while their own words are now seen as disdainful criticism.

Will my words be remembered as those of a cranky blogger or can I actually contribute to the world around me?

5 thoughts on “Issac Watts and the Psalms – The Oldest Book I Own

  1. That is SO cool. Where did you get that?

    Speaking of, did you ever give a listen to that album of reworked Watts hymns that I recommended? No rush, just thought I'd send another friendly reminder…

  2. Thanks, Adam, for the hymnology history lesson. As is countlessly rehashed: many of the hymns enjoyed for so many years now began as bar songs (not Watts, but …).

    I cannot believe there are people who STILL refuse to embrace anything “new” to the canon of music for the church. I can understand style and preference debates, but my thinking is that if the lyrics are theological accurate and not repetitively void (“I love you, Lord, I love you, Lord” ad nauseum) then the songs should be accepted and implemented where practical.

  3. “…if the lyrics are theologically accurate and not repetitively void…”

    Aye, there's the rub. I tell you what, I enjoy nothing more than a modern musical interpretation of an old hymn. All the fun of current musical expression with all the substance of past Christianity!

  4. It's a touch distinction. A good songwriter can make a phrase like, “knockin' on heaven's door” interesting for five minutes. A poor one can drive “Amen” into the ground so that you never want to read the Psalms, again. Crowder uses some simple repetition in songs that are beautiful – but a younger songwriter (like the ones I hear on KLTY) will do something very similar and end up with a lousy song.

Leave a Reply