The hymn as we know it in our usual style of Christian worship dates only to the eighteenth century in England when a man named Isaac Watts decided that the chanting or singing of psalms only was causing great boredom and much sleeping during worship services in England. Watts was a member of a dissenter church, following after the lead of his father, who refused to become an Anglican minister and was persecuted for it until finally freedom of religion was granted to all in English churches.
Isaac Watts as a young man often sat in the worship services in the dissenter church (Congregationalist) where his father was a minister and observed the worshipers present either sleeping during worship or looking so bored that they would rather be any place except where they were. Isaac complained about the rote chanting or singing of psalms and how he could think up better music to be sung and his father challenged him to do so. So, that very day, Isaac Watts composed his first hymn (Behold the Glories) and it was sung during worship the following Sunday.
After that experience, Watts composed a new hymn for each Sunday, most based upon one of the 150 psalms or another scripture passage. The hymn would not be known by the worshipers in the service so Watts would try to teach them to sing it using "line-singing" which was common in worship in that era. The leader would sing a line and the congregants would sing the same line. Each line would be repeated until finally they had sung the entire hymn. It was still not as lively as in the future when Watts' hymns would be published and played by organists and sung by worshipers during worship services but it was a step ahead of the rote psalm singing they had been experiencing up to that time.
Isaac Watts was the first person to compose and publish hymns written in English for worshipers in England. He lived between 1674 and 1748 and wrote several hundreds of hymns. We will sing a few of his hymns this Sunday in worship as we consider his life and his impact on Christian worship. Did you know that he wrote "Joy to the World" which we sing at Christmas? What if we sung it this Sunday on the first Sunday in August? How would that make you feel? What if you knew that this Christmas hymn is based on Psalm 98? Would Christmas feel different to you?
We begin a 4 part sermon series this Sunday based on hymn writers who have influenced the church over the centuries and whose hymns we have come to love. This Sunday we will sing the songs of Isaac Watts and think about his life and influence and give thanks for how these songs help us offer praise to God during worship.