Isaac Watts was born in 1674, the first of nine children. His father, a well–educated deacon in the dissenting Congregational Church of Southampton, England, was imprisoned for being a dissenter.
Watts had a bright and inquiring mind. By the age of twelve he had studied four languages in addition to English. He spoke very easily in rhyme, to the point of being an irritation to his father, who threatened him with a spanking if he continued. When Watts continued, his father carried out his threat, after which Issac responded, “O father, do some pity take, and I will no more verses make.”
At the age of 15 he complained to his father about the dull and uninspired singing by the congregation. (What might he think today?) His father challenged him to write something better. He preceded to write one new hymn per week for the next two years. Most of them from the Psalms, including “Jesus Shall Reign,” and “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.”
Later he began to write hymns based on Biblical facts and doctrine. In 1707, at the age of thirty-three, he wrote, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” Watts ultimately composed over 600 hymns.
Have you surveyed the cross lately?
When I survey the wondrous cross On which the Lord of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss, And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, Save in the cross of Christ, my God;
All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.
See, from His head, His hands, His feet, Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, Or thorns composed so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were an off’ring far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my heart, my life, my all.