Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie!
John Calvin was among the first theologians to rewrite psalms for communal singing. When Isaac Watts joined the tradition nearly two centuries later the culture in the church was more hostile to mixing the arts and spiritual disciplines.
The Poetry Foundation, which in its own words is “committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture,” reports on Watts work to unite the church and arts for spiritual formation. “Watts’s short critical essay introducing Horae Lyricae claims poetry for the cause of religion and virtue, rejecting the common secular debasement of the heavenly genre.”
“Watts wonders at the potential poetic impact of the Incarnation and the Passion of Christ and the evangelical power of Christian poetry to transform readers’ lives. This line of argument at once recalls the criticism of John Dennis and anticipates the achievements in Christian musical drama of George Frideric Handel and Johann Sebastian Bach.”
Thankfully Watts pressed on in his work.
We enjoy him today not only for the beauty of his craft, but for the theological clarity he brings through all of his work.
This week we are looking at five works from Isaac Watts’ book, The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament. Today, Psalm 40:
The wonders, Lord, thy love has wrought,
Exceed our praise, surmount our thought;
Should I attempt the long detail,
My speech would faint, my numbers fail,
No blood of beasts on altars spilt
Can cleanse the souls of men from guilt;
But thou hast set before our eyes
An all-sufficient sacrifice.
Lo! thine eternal Son appears,
To thy designs he bows his ears,
Assumes a body well prepared,
And well performs a work so hard.
“Behold, I come,” the Savior cries,
With love and duty in his eyes,
“I come to bear the heavy load
Of sins, and do thy will, my God.
“’Tis written in thy great decree,
’Tis in thy book foretold of me,
I must fulfill the Savior’s part;
And lo! thy law is in my heart!
“I’ll magnify thy holy law,
And rebels to obedience draw,
When on my cross I’m lifted high,
Or to my crown above the sky.
“The Spirit shall descend and show
What thou hast done, and what I do
The wond’ring world shall learn thy grace,
Thy wisdom, and thy righteousness.”
Melodies of Heaven
Part 3 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org