Happy birthday, Isaac

It’s the birthday of the Father of English hymnody, Isaac Watts (1674-1748). Isaac began writing poetry at a very young age, and when he complained about the lackluster music he heard at church, his father challenged him to come up with something better. Isaac accepted the challenge, and he went on to write hundreds of hymns — including “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” “Jesus Shall Reign,” “Come, Ye That Love the Lord,” and “Joy to the World.” Here is one of my favorites.

When I can read my title clear
to mansions in the skies,
I’ll bid farewell to every fear,
and wipe my weeping eyes.

Should earth against my soul engage
and hellish darts be hurled,
then I can smile at Satan’s rage,
and face a frowning world.

Let cares like a wild deluge come,
and storms of sorrow fall;
May I but safely reach my home,
my God, my heaven, my all.

There I shall bathe my weary soul
in seas of heavenly rest,
and not a wave of trouble roll
across my peaceful breast.

5 Responses to Happy birthday, Isaac

  1. I love this. So. Much. How did this not get into the Trinity Hymnal?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not sure, but probably because they didn’t ask you and me to edit the hymnal prior to publication, because we would have made sure it was included. This was a huge mistake on their part.

      As kind of a sacred music geek, I own a large collection of hymnals from many different churches, and while all of them, regardless of denomination, include many hymns written by Isaac Watts, only one of them contains this particular hymn — a Mennonite hymnal that was published in 1960 and that set me back all of five dollars when I bought it (new!) in 1975. The following year I met the man I would later marry, and he owned a vinyl LP called “Sing to the Lord” — a collection of old hymns arranged for a cappella choir by Alice Parker and sung by the Robert Shaw Chorale — which is where I first heard “When I Can Read My Title Clear.” I fell in love with the LP the first time I heard it, and with its owner shortly afterward. I mean, how could I not fall in love with someone whose taste in music was so nearly identical to my own?


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