What would Isaac Watts say?

It grieves me. It absolutely grieves me.


No, I am not being overly dramatic. When I read criticism of worship songs and styles I literally feel pain. Okay, the pain is caused by the tension of gritting my teeth. But it's still pain.


Blogs with titles like "10 Reasons God Hates Modern Worship Songs" (no, that's not an actual blog; just an example) inform us how shallow the lyrics are, that the theology is not explicit enough, that a particular name of The Almighty is not used, or that it's used incorrectly. On the other hand, other articles bemoan the archaic wording of hymns which some of us have loved all of our lives.


I wonder if David had one of the priests standing over his shoulder as he wrote the Psalms.

“Y’know, the LORD doesn’t really have wings”.

Or if someone whispered to Asaph

“Do you have to use the word “dung”? It’s so offensive. And I’m not sure everyone knows what it means.”


Everyone’s a critic.  But it seems that some people particularly enjoy being critical. And that, I believe, is what grieves me most of all.




The truth is not all worship songs are great. But they are, each and every one, an expression of the writer’s worship of God. Whether it’s a description of the Trilogy, a recounting of God’s great work, or rejoicing in God’s amazing love, each song is written at a particular moment for a particular reason.


And they’re not all going to please everyone.  Just ask Isaac Watts.



In the late 17th century he told his pastor father that he was bored with singing the Psalmody every Sunday in worship.  His father encouraged him to write new songs.  Modern worship songs. Hymns like “O God, Our Help In Ages Past”; “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross”; and “I Sing The Mighty Power Of God”.


But not everyone was excited about these new songs.  In fact, some people hated them.  And they refused to sing them.


Hard to imagine, isn’t it? Some of the best loved hymns of the church were not accepted in the beginning.


Watts wrote “Marching To Zion”.  Remember the lyrics to the second verse? 

 “Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God;

But children of the Heavenly King may speak their joys abroad”


Was this Watts’ response to his critics? Could be.



The same thing happened to Ira Sankey in the early 20th century.  As he sang his songs like “The Ninety And Nine”, and the many Fanny Crosby hymns to which he put music, and accompanied himself on the pump organ, people walked out.  They disapproved of the music AND the pump organ in worship.  Interestingly enough, common opinion was that only hymns of the sort that Isaac Watts had written should be used.


So maybe we should remember that today’s modern worship songs, of which some are now so suspicious, could one day years from now become some of the great hymns of the faith.


Just ask Isaac Watts.

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