‘Tis the Lord! The King of Glory!

Who is He in Yonder Stall?

by Benjamin Russell Hanby (1833-1867) *

  1. Who is He in yonder stall, At whose feet the shepherds fall?


’Tis the Lord! oh wondrous story!

’Tis the Lord! the King of glory!

At His feet we humbly fall,

 Crown Him! crown Him, Lord of all!

  1. Who is He in deep distress, Fasting in the wilderness?

  1. Who is He the people bless For His words of gentleness?

  1. Who is He to whom they bring All the sick and sorrowing?

  1. Who is He that stands and weeps At the grave where Lazarus sleeps?

  1. Who is He the gathering throng Greet with loud triumphant song?

  1. Lo! at midnight, who is He Prays in dark Gethsemane?

  1. Who is He on yonder tree Dies in grief and agony?

  1. Who is He who from the grave Comes to succor, help, and save?

  1. Who is He who from His throne Rules through all the worlds alone?

* Benjamin Russell Hanby (July 22, 1833 – March 16, 1867), was an American composer, educator, pastor, and abolitionist who wrote approximately 80 songs. Hanby was born in Rushville, Ohio. He moved to Westerville, Ohio in 1849, at the age of sixteen, to enroll at Otterbein University. He was involved in the Underground Railroad with his father, Bishop William Hanby. After graduation in 1858, Hanby briefly taught school and then became a minister in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. In 1860, he became principal of Seven Mile Academy in Seven Mile, Ohio. In 1864, Hanby was minister of a church in New Paris, Ohio, but by Christmas 1864, he was no longer working as a pastor, but operating a singing school in New Paris. At age 33, Hanby died from tuberculosis in Chicago on March 16, 1867.


Ministries of the Holy Spirit – Sealing

“‘And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption’ (Ephesians 4:30. See also, II Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13). The ministry of the Spirit in sealing evidently represents the Godward aspect of the relationship – authority, responsibility, and a final transaction. It is ‘unto the day of redemption.’ The Spirit Himself is the seal and all who have the Spirit are sealed. This ministry of the Spirit is also performed when faith is exercised for salvation, and this ministry could not be repeated since the first sealing of any believer is ‘unto the day of redemption.’

“There are then, four ministries of the Spirit for the believer which are wrought the moment he is saved and are never accomplished a second time. He is said to be born, indwelt (or anointed) baptized, and sealed of the Spirit. It may also be added that these four operations of the Spirit in and for the child of God are not related to an experience. The Spirit may actualize all this to the believer after he is saved and it may then become the occasion for most blessed joy and consolation. These four general ministries which are performed in and for believers alike constitute the ‘Earnest of the Spirit’ (II Corinthians 1:22,; 5:5), and the ‘Firstfruits of the Spirit’ (Romans 8:23).”

From He That is Spiritual by Lewis Sperry Chafer (pp. 38-39)

Our study in Biblical Spirituality continues with the ministry of the Holy Spirit in filling the believer.

Being “Filled with the Spirit” is the biblical term for true spirituality.


Hymn – Count Your Blessings


What better way to dispel a complaining and murmuring attitude than to count the many blessings that God showers on us each day. Sing, hum, or whistle this popular song and we will realize how blessed we are!

Count Your Blessings

by Johnson Oatman, Jr. *

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,

When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,

Count your many blessings, name them one by one,

And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.


Count your blessings, name them one by one;

Count your blessings, see what God hath done;

Count your blessings, name them one by one;

Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?

Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?

Count your many blessings, ev’ry doubt will fly,

And you will be singing as the days go by. [Refrain]

When you look at others with their lands and gold,

Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;

Count your many blessings, money cannot buy

Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high. [Refrain]

So, amid the conflict, whether great or small,

Do not be discouraged, God is over all;

Count your many blessings, angels will attend,

Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end. [Refrain]

* Johnson Oatman, Jr. (1856-1922)  was age forty-one in 1897 when he wrote what has been regarded as his most popular gospel song. Composer E.O. Excell, set “Count Your Blessings” to music. Of this popular gospel song evangelist Gypsy Smith once said, “Men sing it, boys whistle it, and women rock their babies to sleep to the tune.”

Another of his equally singable gospel songs, “Higher Ground,” begins with this stanza:

I’m pressing on the upward way,

    New heights I’m gaining ev’ry day;

Still praying as I onward bound,

    “Lord plant my feet on higher ground.”

Oatman was never a great singer. He was never a great preacher insofar as pulpit messages were concerned. But he found his talent and made great contributions to the faith. For through his sermons in song he has preached to millions that he could never have reached from the pulpit. He wrote an average of two hundred gospel songs a year for more than a quarter of a century. His total output passed the 5,000 mark. And, when publishers insisted, for business reasons, that he set a price on his work, Oatman stipulated his terms: he would accept one dollar per song. His messages still reach multitudes through such gospel songs as “Count Your Blessings.”


Hymn: Holy, Holy, Holy

“And one [angel] cried unto another, and said,

Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts:

the whole earth is full of his glory.”

Isaiah 6:3 (KJV)


Holy, Holy, Holy

Lyrics by Reginald Heber, Music by John Dykes *

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty!

Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.

Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty!

God in three persons, blessed trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore thee,

casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;

cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,

which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.

Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee,

though the eye of sinfulness thy glory may not see,

only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,

perfect in pow’r, in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty!

All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth, and sky, and sea.

Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty!

God in three persons, blessed trinity!


* Reginald Heber (1783-1826) was born into a wealthy, educated family. He was a bright youth, translating a Latin classic into English verse by the time he was seven, entering Oxford at seventeen. After his graduation he became rector of his father’s church in the village of Hodnet near Shrewsbury in the west of England where he remained for sixteen years. His denomination appointed him Bishop of Calcutta in 1823 and he worked tirelessly in India for three years until the weather and travel took its toll on his health and he died of a stroke.

Thirty-five years after his death, Heber’s widow found a roll of his hymns in a trunk and had them published as poems. A London publisher and his staff were studying the poems when they came across a masterpiece! Composer John Dykes was called in. Dykes, with 300 fine compositions to his credit, could compose music almost anywhere and quite rapidly. When he left the publisher’s office, he left behind a group of startled men and one of the finest hymn tunes ever composed. Reginald Heber wrote 57 hymns in his lifetime. Holy, Holy, Holy, his greatest, was written especially for his congregation in Hodnet.


Murmuring is Against Our Standing as Christians

Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646), in his book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, explains in a lengthy passage how murmuring and complaining is contrary to our standing as Christians.

“Murmuring and discontent is exceedingly below a Christian. Oh, it is too mean and base a disorder for a Christian to give place to it. Now it is below a Christian in many respects…”

Burroughs reminds us of many ways that our Christian position makes murmuring and complaining unfitting. Here are some examples:

1.  Our position as a child of God our Father – “Are you the King’s son, the son, the daughter of the King of Heaven, and yet so disquieted and troubled, and vexed at every little thing that happens? As if a King’s son were to cry out that he is undone for losing a toy? What an unworthy thing would this be! So do you cry out as if you were undone and yet you are a King’s son, you who stand in such relation to God, as to a father, you dishonor your father in this: as if either he had not wisdom, or power, or mercy enough to provide for you.” Galatians 3:26

2.  Our relation to Jesus Christ – “You are espoused to Christ. What! One is married to Jesus Christ and yet is troubled and discontented?” (II Corinthians 11:2). Christ is in believers (Colossians 1:27) and yet believers murmur and complain about every trouble as if Christ was absent and unmindful of us!

3.  Our relation to the Holy Spirit – “…He dwells within you and yet for all that you murmur over every little thing?” I Corinthians 6:19-20

4.  Our relation to the Body of Christ – We are members of His Body; Jesus Christ is the Head of the Body, the Church. Do we complain against the head of the body to which we belong? Colossians 1:18, Ephesians 1:22-23

5.  Our relation to the saints of God – As members of one another in the Body, we suffer with one another and rejoice with one another. Murmuring in our trials seems unthinkable when we consider what other saints have suffered over the centuries. Romans 12:5; I Corinthians 12:26; Ephesians 3:6

6.  Our relation to the dignity that God has placed on Christians – Believers are made kings and priest to God; we are a royal priesthood; we are blessed with all heavenly blessings in Christ. What can kings and royalty have to complain about? Revelation 1:6; I Peter 2:9; Ephesians 1:3

7.  Murmuring is contrary to a Christ-like spirit – The mind of Christ means that He did not complain wen He went to the cross to pay for our sins. Philippians 2:5-8


He Was Wounded For Our Transgressions


There have been many hymns written over the years based on Isaiah chapter 53. He Was Wounded For Our Transgressions is appropriate to be sung at communion services as a memorial hymn and draws our attention to the infinite sacrifice of Jesus Christ that paid the price for our sin. Take time to meditate on these words which share the great sacrifice that was made for our salvation. And don’t forget the final verse of victory, “Millions, dead, now live again, myriads follow in His train!  Victorious Lord, victorious Lord, Victorious Lord and coming King!”  Hallelujah!


He Was Wounded For Our Transgressions

by Thomas Obediah Chisholm *

He was wounded for our transgressions,

He bore our sins in His body on the tree;

For our guilt He gave us peace,

From our bondage gave release,

And with His stripes, and with His stripes,

And with His stripes our souls are healed.

He was numbered among transgressors,

We did esteem Him forsaken by His God;

As our sacrifice He died,

That the law be satisfied,

And all our sin, and all our sin,

And all our sin was laid on Him.

We had wandered, we all had wandered

Far from the fold of “the Shepherd of the sheep”;

But He sought us where we were,

On the mountains bleak and bare,

And bro’t us home, and bro’t us home,

And bro’t us safely home to God.

Who can number His generation?

Who shall declare all the triumphs of His Cross?

Millions, dead, now live again,

Myriads follow in His train!

Victorious Lord, victorious Lord,

Victorious Lord and coming King!


* Thomas Obediah Chisholm (1866-1960) drew inspiration from Isaiah 53:5 to pen the words to this great hymn in 1941. Chisholm was born in a log cabin in Franklin, Kentucky. He received his education in a rural schoolhouse in the area and he never got past an elementary school education. However, by the age of sixteen he was a teacher. Five years later, at the age of twenty-one, he was the associate editor of his hometown weekly newspaper, The Franklin Advocate.

In 1893, at a revival meeting in Franklin, Chisholm accepted Jesus Christ into his heart and life. Later, Chisholm moved to Louisville, Kentucky and became an editor for the Pentecostal Herald. In 1903, he became an ordained Methodist Minister and married Katherine Hambright Vandevere.  Due to ill health, Chisholm was only able to serve one year in the ministry. After leaving his ministry in Scottsville, Kentucky he and his wife relocated to Winona Lake, Indiana for the open air.

After a time in Indiana, he moved to Vineland, New Jersey where he sold insurance. He suffered from health issues the rest of his life and had periods of time when he was confined to bed and unable to work. But over the years more than eight hundred of his poems were published, and a number of these were set to music and have found their way into our hymn books. Great Is Thy Faithfulness, Living for Jesus, O to be Like Thee! are a few of the hymns we sing today. His aim in writing poems and hymns was to incorporate as much Scripture as possible and to avoid flippant or sentimental themes.


Hymn: At Calvary

Until a few days ago I had never heard of William Newell. A friend recently told me that he’d bought Newell’s commentary on Revelation and I had to google the author. We’ve sung At Calvary many times at church, but how many people notice the hymn writer unless they are someone really famous like Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, or Ira Sankey? Newell wrote the words to this song as sort of an autobiography (see below). He was a respected Bible teacher, conference speaker, and author of three verse-by-verse commentaries. Only God knows how many lives have been changed by grace at Calvary. I look forward to meeting them in Heaven!


At Calvary

by William Newell

Years I spent in vanity and pride,

Caring not my Lord was crucified,

Knowing not it was for me He died on Calvary


Mercy there was great and grace was free,

Pardon there was multiplied to me,

There my burdened soul found liberty–

At Calvary.

By God’s Word at last my sin I learned–

Then I trembled at the Law I’d spurned,

Till my guilty soul imploring turned to Calvary.


Now I’ve giv’n to Jesus ev’rything,

Now I gladly own Him as my King,

Now my raptured soul can only sing of Calvary.


O the love that drew salvation’s plan!

O the grace that brought it down to man!

O the mighty gulf that God did span at Calvary.



* William R. Newell (1868-1956)

Born in Savannah, Ohio, William R. Newell is remembered as a pastor, evangelist, Bible teacher, author, conference speaker and writer of the beloved hymn, At Calvary. The hymn captures his personal testimony.

In his youth, Newell was known as a troubled and wayward teen. As a last resort, his father wrote to the president of Moody Bible Institute, begging him to allow his son to enroll. Since the college was only open to serious Bible students, the president opposed the idea at first, but finally agreed that Newell would be enrolled on the condition that he would meet with the president daily and take his studies seriously.

Because of a father’s prayers, a college president’s commitment and a teen’s perseverance, Newell eventually graduated. He knew it was only by the grace of God that his life had been turned around and he had been able to accomplish so many good things. After Moody, he graduated from Wooster (Ohio) College in 1891, studied at Princeton and Oberlin Seminaries and, after ordination, pastored the Bethesda Congregational Church in Chicago until 1895.

As assistant superintendent at Moody Bible Institute, Newell displayed his gift of Bible exposition at his city-wide Bible classes in Chicago, St. Louis and Toronto. This led to publication of his well-known commentaries, “verse-by-verse” explanations on Romans, Hebrews and The Book of Revelation, still widely used today.

In 1895, Newell wrote his personal testimony as a poem, the lines sharing his thoughts about his conversion and Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. It is said that he wrote the words quickly on an old envelope in his classroom. He showed the lyrics to his friend, Dr. Daniel Towner, director of music at Moody, and in an hour At Calvary was a finished work.

Newell died April 1, 1956, in DeLand, Florida. Understanding the great importance of God’s grace in Christ is difficult for some to understand, but Newell communicated that truth in a profound and lasting way through a personal, and moving, song.


Hymn – There is a Fountain Filled With Blood

“There is a Fountain Filled with Blood” is sometimes omitted from hymnals on the grounds that the metaphor, “fountain filled with blood” is offensive. But there is sufficient interest by many people whose interest is in the Lamb of God and the blood shed for our sins and the sins of the whole world. This favorite hymn has found its place in hymnals for more than two centuries. (It is Hymn #175 in Living Hymns.)

[A rendition of this hymn by George Beverly Shea was the theme song for “Fellowship Time” hosted by Pastor Joseph Stringer every Sunday morning for more than 20 years on WCCM in Lawrence, Mass. This half-hour Bible study was must-listening for us during breakfast before we went to the Sunday morning service at Fellowship Bible Church in North Andover where we heard Pastor Stringer again!]


There is a Fountain Filled with Blood

by William Cowper *

There is a fountain filled with blood

Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;

And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,

Lose all their guilty stains:

Lose all their guilty stains,

Lose all their guilty stains;

And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,

Lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see

That fountain in his day;

And there may I, though vile as he,

Wash all my sins away:

Wash all my sins away,

Wash all my sins away;

And there may I, though vile as he,

Wash all my sins away.

Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood

Shall never lose its pow’r,

Till all the ransomed Church of God

Be saved, to sin no more:

Be saved, to sin no more,

Be saved, to sin no more;

Till all the ransomed Church of God

Be saved to sin no more.

E’er since by faith I saw the stream

Thy flowing wounds supply,

Redeeming love has been my theme,

And shall be till I die:

And shall be till I die,

And shall be till I die;

Redeeming love has been my theme,

And shall be till I die.

When this poor lisping, stamm’ring tongue

Lies silent in the grave,

Then in a nobler, sweeter song

I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save:

I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save,

I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save;

Then in a nobler, sweeter song

I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save.


* William Cowper (1731-1800) The simple life of William Cowper, marked chiefly by its innocent recreations and tender friendships, was in reality a tragedy. His mother died when he was six years old. Educated to be a solicitor, he failed to take the exam because his sensitive spirit was consumed by fear of appearing before the bar. He fell in love, but the marriage was forbidden by her father. He never married. What followed was years of melancholy, depression, and attempted suicides.

For the last two decades of his life, William Cowper lived in Olney, where John Newton was his pastor and he assisted Newton in his pastoral duties. His emotional state swung from extreme highs to depressing lows. When a close friend died he experienced months of depression.

His great poems show no trace of his monomania and are full of healthy piety. His poetry marks the contrasting presence of a quiet nature. The spiritual ideas of his hymns are identical with those of John Newton who wrote “Amazing Grace”; their highest note is peace and thankful contemplation, rather than joy. Cowper and John Newton collaborated on the important hymn collection Olney Hymns (1779), to which Cowper contributed sixty-eight hymn texts.

A verse that is familiar to many comes from one of his Olney Hymns, “Light Shining Out of Darkness,” 1779

GOD moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness;

but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”

I Corinthians 1:18


Hymn – Hallelujah to the Lamb


Hallelujah to the Lamb

Lyrics by Isaac Watts *

Chorus by Alfred B. Smith **

Come, let us join our cheerful songs

with angels round the throne;

ten thousand thousand are their tongues,

but all their joys are one.


Hallelujah to the Lamb,

who died on Mount Calvary!

Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah! Amen.

‘Worthy the Lamb that died,’ they cry,

‘to be exalted thus’;

‘Worthy the Lamb,’ our lips reply,

‘for he was slain for us.’ [Chorus]

Jesus is worthy to receive

honour and power divine;

and blessings, more than we can give,

be, Lord, for ever thine. [Chorus]

Let all that dwell above the sky,

and air, and earth, and seas,

conspire to lift thy glories high,

and speak thine endless praise. [Chorus]

The whole creation joins in one

to bless the sacred name

of him that sits upon the throne,

and to adore the Lamb. [Chorus]


* Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

In 1702, Watts  became pastor of the Independent Church, Berry St., London.. In 1712, he accepted an invitation to visit Sir Thomas Abney, at his residence of Abney Park, and at Sir Thomas’ pressing request, made it his home for the remainder of his life. He did not retire from ministerial duties, but preached as often as his delicate health would permit.

The number of Watts’ publications is very large. His collected works, first published in 1720, embrace sermons, treatises, poems and hymns. His “Hymns” appeared in July, 1707. The first hymn he is said to have composed for religious worship, is “Behold the Glories of the Lamb,” written at the age of twenty. It is as a writer of psalms and hymns that he is everywhere known. Some of his hymns were written to be sung after his sermons, giving expression to the meaning of the text upon which he had preached. His published hymns number more than eight hundred.

Watts died November 25, 1748. A monumental statue (left) was erected in Southampton, his native place, and there is also a monument (above)to his memory in the South Choir of Westminster Abbey. “Happy,” said one of his contemporaries, “will be that reader whose mind is disposed, by his verses or his prose, to imitate him in all but his non-conformity, to copy his benevolence to men, and his reverence to God.”


** Alfred B. Smith (1916-2001)

[Biography compiled from the Living Hymns web site]

The fascinating life of Dr. Al Smith, “Mr. Singspiration,” began on November 8, 1916 in a small Holland Dutch community in northern New Jersey where the news of the day reported that “Mr. and Mrs. Barney Smith” had become the proud parents of a baby boy who they named Alfred Barney Smith. Alfred’s early years were filled with loving care from a father and mother who loved the Lord.

When Alfred was eight and a half years of age his mother decided that it was time to start her son on the violin. Under the tutelage of excellent instructors, young Alfred made great progress, soon he was performing in concerts in various parts of the east including solos with various symphony orchestras.

At fourteen he was invited to a tent meeting in Hawthorne, New Jersey, where he accepted Christ as Savior. He was thrilled upon hearing the one hundred and fifty people in the tent singing “Saved, Saved, Saved” and “One Day.” That day he fell in love with Gospel music It was a love that never left him. In 1930, he began playing on radio broadcasts. The station was WKBO, located in Jersey City, New Jersey. The program was called “the Old Fashioned Gospel Hour.”

In 1937, Alfred B. Smith graduated from Moody Bible Institute and immediately began as Minister of Music at The Church of the Open Door in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1938 the church loaned him to The Philadelphia School of the Bible – now The Philadelphia College of the Bible.  It was during that year that Smith wrote “For God So Loved the World” after visiting the ninety-four year-old hymn writer  George C. Stebbins. He was beginning an adventure in inspiration that kept him occupied for over sixty years.

In 1939 he was offered a scholarship to Wheaton College (which he gratefully accepted). His next three and half years were busy ones. In 1940 Billy Graham was a student at Wheaton. Smith and Graham decided that they would work together as an evangelistic team. Graham did the preaching and Smith coordinated the music. As a result of their ministry, the company Singspiration was born in 1941. God worked in a mighty way…in Singspiration’s  first two months of sales the entire printing of five thousand books was sold! In 1942 Al Smith married Catherine Barron. The same year he produced “Singspiration Two,” and choose Zondervan of Grand Rapids, Michigan to be his distributor.

In 1953, Montrose, New Jersey became the new headquarters for Singspiration and a new Christian radio station, WPEL. In 1957, John W. Peterson, Norman Johnson and Harold DeCou join the Singspiration staff. New publications including cantatas begin to cover not only America but Canada, England and other parts of the English speaking world.

In 1963, Singspiration moved to Grand Rapids and became part of Zondervan. Free from the pressure of managing Singspiration he devoted most of his time to ministering in church meetings. He also kept quite busy with the writing “Hymn Histories” and the hymnal “Living Hymns.” “Living Hymns” was first published in 1972 and “Hymn Histories” in 1982.

In 1985, Al and his family moved to Greenville, South Carolina, where his children attended Bob Jones Academy. Here for the last fifteen years of his life he was able to continue his publishing. Though he battled cancer in his later years, Dr. Smith was always going the extra mile to share the love of God with others whether in his home church, Greenville Christian Fellowship, or in countless other churches across the nation.

Shortly before Al Smith passed away he shared his vision for the ministry to continue after his death. His sons, David and Jonathan, caught that vision and started Al Smith Ministries to keep the music of Alfred B. Smith available. God has allowed them to continue to offer the resources their father spent his life making. In 2009 Al Smith Ministries partnered with Striving Together Publications to be our exclusive distributor for Living Hymns. A new edition was completed that kept the original hymnal the same, updating the type setting and adding over sixty more songs to the book.

[Note: I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Smith and hearing him speak (he had a strong, clear “radio voice”) when he visited Fellowship Bible Church in North Andover in the late 1970s. He and Pastor Joseph Stringer were of the same era and joked like old friends. The church was filled for a Sunday evening service and Dr. Smith led us in a “Singspiration” of his songs. It was a memorable evening of worshipful music. Salem Bible Church, and other churches formed in those years, call our all-singing services Singspirations!  Of course, our church hymnal is the latest edition of “Living Hymns”! MFV]

A Rebellious Youth Revolutionizes Congregational Singing


“Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!

Sing to the Lord, all the earth.

   Sing to the Lord, bless His name;

Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.

   Declare His glory among the nations,

His wonders among all peoples.”

Psalm 96:1-3


A Rebellious Youth Revolutionizes Congregational Singing *

Line by line the clerk read a Psalm. Line by line the congregation sang after him. That is, everybody sang except young Isaac Watts.

After church services that Sunday in 1692, when his Puritan father called him to the carpet for not singing, Isaac said bluntly that there was no music in the Psalms. He said further that the Psalms did not rhyme and that there was no sense in having to sing them line by line.

When outraged Deacon Watts’ blood pressure subsided, he suggested that if his young upstart son were smarter than King David he might try his hand at writing something better. The result of that challenge was a revolution in church singing that has resounded for more than three centuries.

Staid old Deacon Enoch Watts must have spoken without thinking when he hurled his sarcastic remark at his teen-age son. For at his boarding school in Southampton, the deacon himself had taught Isaac five languages before the boy was fourteen years old. That is, the deacon taught when he wasn’t in jail for his acts against the Established Church.

For twelve years Mrs. Enoch Watts had tutored her oldest son in the writing of verse. At seven he had won a copper medal for writing rhymes. He waxed so poetical that when the elder Watts threatened to flail him for rhyming even his everyday conversation, the boy cried out, “O father do some pity take, and I will no more verses make.”

Accepting his father’s challenge, eighteen-year-old Isaac Watts set about “Christianizing” and “modernizing” the Psalms. The following Sunday the clerk read Isaac Watts’ hymn and the congregation was so pleased that for two years Watts had to bring one of his “modernized” Psalms every Sunday!

Eighteen-year-old Isaac had successfully broken an ancient tradition. From his prolific pen would come “Joy to the World! The Lord is Come,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “Am I Soldier of the Cross” and many other notable hymns.

With his bold departure from Psalm singing, Isaac Watts gave to Christianity a popular and inspiring medium of worship and paved the way for Charles Wesley, John Newton, William Cowper, and hundreds to follow.

Here is a hymn, written by Isaac Watts in 1719, that was one of three selections sung by President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill during devotional services aboard the man-of-war H.M.S. Prince of Wales in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland in 1941. Four months later, the United States entered WWII.

O God our help in ages past,

   Our hope for years to come,

Our shelter from the stormy blat,

   And our eternal home.

* A Hymn is Born, by Clint Bonner (Broadman Press, 1959)