Monday, November 23, 2009

I Sing the Mighty Power of God – Isaac Watts

Isaac Watts was a father to many. In fact, you might say he was prodigious in producing offspring, and was a father to two different types of progeny. Yet, biologically speaking, he had no children of his own, no one to inherit the Watts name. If you think this is an unsolvable puzzle, then perhaps you haven’t been in a hymn-singing church in a while.

The ‘father of English hymns’, as Watts came to be known, lived three centuries ago, and many of his 750 poems are still sung today. “I Sing the Mighty Power of God” is still a standard in churches today, and its history tells us how Watts might have been considered a father in a second way. In 1715 Watts put together a songbook, which doesn’t really sound that unusual, right? Except that this was a songbook for children, gospel songs, in which “I Sing the Mighty Power of God” appears. Kids are usually heard singing fairy tale rhymes, or some other ditties us grown-ups think of as cute, but not especially instructive for adults. The Divine Songs for Children is thought to be the first-ever hymnal published for children, a testimony of Watts’ care for children that is so well-known that it is memorialized on a statue of him in Southampton, England. Through his compositions, Watts put into action Jesus’ directive to allow children to approach the Lord, rather than ignoring or ‘shushing’ or ‘shooing’ them away. One can imagine him guiding personally small minds with his songs, and so endearing himself to kids -- although not his own -- as a father-like figure, or perhaps a gentlemanly uncle.

The song’s text is pretty simple, with few words to confuse or bewilder the mind. It seems to come straight out of Genesis, with plain words that all humans can fathom – our mighty God made everything in the universe. It’s not a time for theological, hair-splitting debate, just worship. Look on God with awe. Honor Him. Trust Him. Just like a little child, which is, by the way, how God seems to want me to regard my relationship with Him (Matthew 19:14). I think I’ll sing Watts’ song with a newfound appreciation for what he was thinking when he wrote for someone about three or four feet tall. Maybe the position on my knees would be about right the next time I sing these words.

Information on the song was obtained from the books “101 Hymn Stories”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1982; “Amazing Grace – 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, 1990; and “The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006. Also see the following website for information about Isaac Watts.

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