The Isaac Watts Hoax

It took a few minutes, but I finally tracked down the source to a pesky, oft-repeated Isaac Watts quote. Forgive me for taking a long time to trace it, but it has been used so much, it was hard to get to the source. Patient readers will be interested to learn its history.

Whenever someone starts a story with “recently on Twitter,” you can be almost certain that the story will end with “someone threw gasoline on me and lit a match.” Even so, recently on Twitter, I commented on worship style and Contemporary Christian Music, and almost immediately, some old, gray-headed guy provided me with a link to an article on “The Controversial Organ.”

The article includes two editorials – one from 1863 and one from 1890, in which objections were raised to the “new” worship songs and musical selections of that day – “Just As I Am” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” 

I shyly pointed out that no source was offered for either of these letters – something that shouldn’t be hard to do if one is copying letters from that long ago.  Surely someone has a source for that, right?  And my Twitter companion immediately roasted me: “It wouldn’t matter to you if they did, you legalist.” 

Well, humphhhh. 

A few months before this exchange, I was told by a straight-faced young man in our church lobby that “Christians have always been resistant to change in worship styles.  Pastors objected to Isaac Watts in his day.  They thought it was too new and too worldly.” 

I’ve heard that before, but I always wondered about it.  How do we know this?  Where do I find this information in the history?  What was controversial about Isaac Watts?

Maybe you’ve heard this same argument.  If so, perhaps you also had the panicked thought, am I standing in the way of progress?  “Am I on the wrong side of history?   Who knows if Zach Williams or Kari Jobe might be the next Isaac Watts?  And here I am, like a stone wall in the middle of the prairie, making everyone ride around me.” Let me get out of the way so the people can get to Michael W. Smith.  Mercy Me.  Let’s get back to Casting Crowns and have some Elevation Worship in this place!

Continue reading “The Isaac Watts Hoax”