The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts by Douglas Bond
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
One of the things I am most grateful to my parents for is that they put Christian biographies in my hand from a young age. It has really made me much of the man I am, and given to me a love for history, and learning from men and women who have â€œgone beforeâ€. Thus, a regular part of my reading diet is biography. I recently went through Douglas Bondâ€™s short biography of Isaac Watts (The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts), and wanted to share several of the gems I gleaned from it.
Ligonier has published a whole series of biographies on godly men called â€œA Long Line of Godly Menâ€(http://www.ligonier.org/store/collect…). This is the first one Iâ€™ve read, but I am eager to go through more of them.
Bond skillfully makes Watts life, ministry and work very accessible to the lay reader. Watts was born into a rich legacy of faithfulness to Scripture above all else; when he was born his father was in prison, for refusing to conform to the Anglican church. Thus, from an early age he learned from his Father to obey God rather than men. Wattsâ€™ father instructed his children: â€œDo not entertain any hard thoughts of God or of His ways, because His people are persecuted for them; for Jesus Christ Himself was persecuted to death by wicked men, for preaching the truth and doing good; and the holy apostles and prophets were cruelly used for serving God in His own way.â€
Further, his father gave the best gift a father can give, a love Godâ€™s Word: â€œLet all the knowledge and learning you attain by other books, both at school and at home, be improved as servants to help you the better to understand Godâ€™s Word. The sum of all the counsel I can give you is contained in that blessed Word of God.â€ Summed up in these two quotes from Wattsâ€™ father is really the bedrock that every child needs: first, obey God, no matter the consequences, and secondly, submit everything to the authority of Godâ€™s Word.
Watts was an incredible smart and learned man, but for all his learning he aimed to maintain a Christ-centered, Christ-honoring focus. This is a keen lesson which our modern generation must learn: Christ is central. Whenever the center is removed, things fall a part, which is precisely what is happening in our day and age. The answer is not more garbled and senseless worship songs that cater to mushy brains and calloused hearts. Instead, we need what Watts offered the church: sharp truths that cut through our sinfulness and pride, and leaves us in wonder of the marvelous glory of Christ.
Douglas Bond makes a wonderful statement in regards to the need in the church and in the individual believerâ€™s life for Christ centered, Christ exalting worship: â€œI for one do not want for an instant to be thrilled with emotion, to become a junkie of my feelings, to be enslaved to raw passionâ€” and tell myself itâ€™s Christ with which Iâ€™m thrilled. I donâ€™t want a cheat. I want Christ.â€
Bond, rightly, recognizes that as the modern church has left off singing doctrinally sound, theologically rich, poetically vibrant, melodically meaningful hymns it has consequently become rather irrelevant to the culture. Ironically, in the modern churchâ€™s aim to be â€œrelevantâ€ to the culture it has, in fact, become so much like the world so as to be unrecognizable as a gathering of the people of the Kingdom of Christ. Our songs have become more about us worshipping God, than they are about worshipping God. Watts gave something precious to the church of his generation: theologically rich and poetically vibrant hymns about the glorious Gospel of Christ. We would do well to return to learn a thing or two from Watts and other faithful saints like him, and aim to write lasting hymns for future Christian generations.
Bond summarizes this need well: â€œAs we flounder about in the â€œliturgical fidgetâ€ of the contemporary church, Watts can provide both the theological and liturgical ballast Christian worship so desperately needs. And he can give us an emotional rudder, a means of steering the passions in worship by objective propositional truth feelingly delivered. Without such a rudder, worship is shipwrecked on the shoals of cheap-trick emotionalism generated in much the same way it is at a concert or a football game. Tragically, in place of singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs in worship to Jesus Christ (Col. 1: 16â€“ 17), raw feelings of having done so may be supplanting the real thing.â€
Iâ€™d highly recommend this biography to everyone, but especially those who are worship leaders, pastors, or church leaders. It is a rather short and sweet biography, and a very enjoyable read.