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DR. WATTS NOT A UNITARIAN.
Dr. Watts was a very remarkable man. Born in weakness, he spent a life of continual suffering, and dwelt, as it were, upon the very confines of the grave. And yet so truly was the strength of God perfected in his weakness, that while the outward man was continually perishing, the inward man was made strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. A child in physical energy, he was a giant in intellectual prowess, and exerted seventy-five years of unintermitting mental labour. His poem on "Complaint and hope under great pain," seems to be an emblem of his daily experience.
He was born in troublous times, which tried men's souls, and tested their principles by persecution. His father was imprisoned for six months for his non-conformity, and afterwards driven from his family for two years. And when in prison, his wife, it is said, was seen sitting on a stone near the prison door, suckling her son Isaac. Thus introduced to the cause of non-conformity, Watts did not, like Butler, Secker, and others, yield to the overpowering influence of worldly advantages, but having studied the principles of non-conformity, and being satisfied that these principles were most congenial to a kingdom not of this world, he rejected the most flattering proposals and devoted himself to the interests of the dissenters.
He was a remarkable instance of early attention to books. Before he had well learned to speak, a book was his greatest pleasure, and when he received any little present of money, he was accustomed to run to his parents crying "a book, a book, buy a book." He began to learn Latin at the age of four, and his leisure hours seem to have been very early occupied in poetical efforts. He thus "lisped in numbers," and from four to fifty, was a writer of verses. And yet it may be said that in all this time he wrote no line, which dying, he could wish to blot. No uninspired poet has ever obtained the popularity of Watts, or so identified his muse with all that is sacred to the best interests of his species. His songs still constitute a principal medium of divine worship to the larger portion of Protestant christendom, and while they perfect the hosannas of "babes and sucklings," waft to heaven the aspirations of the hoary headed saint, and put songs of exulting triumph into the mouth of the dying believer "just ready to depart." Breathing
the spirit of their divine originals, conveying not their typical and literal sense, but their spiritual and true import as prophetical of the saviour and "shadows of good things to come," and written in every variety of metre, and in a style equally adapted to the unlettered and cultivated mind-his Psalms have far outshone any other version which has been attempted for the use of the christian church in the public worship of God. And as it regards his hymns, it may be safely affirmed that, taken as a whole, they are inimitable for their scripturality, fervour, and devotion, and that without many of them, no collection of christians Psalmody can be complete. And had Dr. Watts left no other legacy to the church than his Psalms, and Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, he would have erected for himself an enduring monument, not in tables of stone, but in the hearts of christians, whose lips employing his time hallowed language, will ever celebrate the high praises of God, the Father, Son and Spirit, where there are works to make HIM known or saints to love the Lord.
These Psalms and Hymns are employed by the churchman, the dissenter, and the Methodist; and "every Sabbath, in every region of the earth, where his native tongue is spoken, thousands and tens of thousands of voices are sending the sacrifices of prayer and praise to God, in the strains which he prepared for them a century ago."
"A copy was taken into Central Africa by Mr. Anderson, the fellow-traveller and brother-in-law of the unfortunate Mungo Park, and lately found by the Landers at Youri, hung up in the residence of a chieftain as fetishe, or sacred. From his pulpit, Dr. Watts instructed and edified a numerous and attentive auditory; from his study he benefitted, by practical and doctrinal treatises, thousands who never heard the sound of his living voice; but from his closet he has given songs of praise to the churches, which will be used in their solemn assemblies and private devotions, till time shall be no more, and have been employed by the delivered spirit soaring triumphant over death, to its native skies. They have been instruments in the hand of God, of improving the religious experience, and increasing the spiritual enjoyments of his people, rousing their deadened affections, enkindling the almost extinguished flame of love, prompting the longings of desire, and calling back, by the 'voice of music,' and the gushing of 'sweet sound,' many a wandering sheep to the fold of his heavenly Father and Redeemer."
James Montgomery himself, pre-eminent as a poet, a christian, and a psalmist, in the preface to his Christian Psalmist, remarks, "Passing by Mrs. Rowe, and the mystical rhymes of her age, we come to the greatest name among hymn-writers; for we hesitate not to give that praise to Dr. Isaac Watts, since it has pleased God to confer upon him, though one of the least of the poets of his country, more glory than upon the greatest either of that or any other, by making his "divine songs," a more abundant and universal blessing, than the verses of any uninspired penman that ever lived. In his 'Psalms and Hymns,' (for they must be classed together,) he has embraced a compass and variety of subjects, which include and illustrate every truth of revelation, throw light upon every secret movement of the human heart, whether of sin, nature, or grace, and describe every kind of trial, temptation, conflict, doubt, fear and grief, as well as the faith, hope, charity, the love, joy, peace, labour, and patience of the christian, in all stages of his course on earth; together with the terrors of the Lord, the glories of the Redeemer, and the comforts of the Holy Spirit, to urge, allure and strengthen him by the way. There is in the pages of this evangelist, a word in season for every one who needs it, in whatever circumstances he may require counsel, consolation, reproof, or instruction."
It was owing to the earnest wishes of his friends, that Dr. Watts, about the year 1729, gave to the world, the work now presented in a new form to the public. This humble and unpretending performance, says his biographer, Mr. Milner, speedily obtained an unwonted popularity; edition after edition rapidly issued from the press in England and America; and translations have since appeared in many of the European and transAtlantic languages. The number of copies that have been circulated throughout the world, must amount to many millions; upwards of thirty editions in this country are regularly kept in print; and, upon a moderate computation, the average annual sale in England only cannot be less than eighty thousand. It was stated some years ago upon authority, that two Institutions, the Society for promoting Religious Knowledge among the poor, and the Religious Tract Society, had distributed upwards of one hundred thousand. It is an honourable distinction, that the most popular books in the English, and probably in any other language, have proceeded from the pens of non-conformists. In proof of the accuracy of this statement, there need only be instanced the "Pilgrim's Progress" of Bunyan; the
"Saint's Rest," of Baxter; the "Rise and Progress of Religion," of Doddridge; the "Divine Songs," of Watts; and the "Robinson Crusoe," of De Foe. Wherever the English name is known, and its language has penetrated, these productions have travelled the heralds of the literature and religion of the country of their birth.
Of the merits of the "Divine Songs," a very high opinion has been entertained. The writer, with singular felicity, adapts himself to the feeble capacity of childhood; his rhymes present a rare combination of the simple, the useful, and the attractive; and, perhaps, no equal instance can be found in our literature of the truths of religion, the duties of morality, and the spirit of poetry, being so admirably accommodated to an infantine comprehension. It is no slight praise to have expounded the sublimest lessons of philosophy to the educated, and at the same time, to have put into "the mouths of babes and sucklings,' such plain and beautiful effusions. Dr. Johnson's striking eulogy should not be withheld: "For children," he remarks, "he condescended to lay aside the scholar, the philosopher, and the wit, to write little poems of devotion and systems of instruction, adapted to their wants and capacities, from the dawn of reason through its gradations of advance in the morning of life. Every man acquainted with the common principles of human action, will look with veneration on the writer, who is, at one time, combating Locke, and at another, making a catechism for children in their fourth year. A voluntary descent from the dignity of science, is, perhaps, the hardest lesson that humility can teach." In such compositions as the following: "whenever I take my walks abroad;" "my God, who makes the sun to know;" "Lord, how delightful 'tis to all;" "and now another day is gone;" "tis the voice of the sluggard;" "how fair is the rose," &c., we see genius and devotion coming down to the level of the most juvenile understanding. Had Watts written nothing beside, his name would have lived forever; they form one of the most precious boons which the church of Christ has ever received from the hands of uninspired man; and they will be repeated by the seed of the righteous on earth, until they hear and learn the songs of the blessed in heaven.
Many of the correspondents of Watts refer to the happy influence of his songs upon the minds of children; and several striking testimonies to this effect are upon record. A Welch divine observes, "I have seen the sweet delight and joy with which they have been read by many of the young. On the
hearts of five children in my own connection they have by the blessing of God made deep impressions; and one of these the other day died comfortably, repeating them a few minutes before his departure." A religious periodical relates the following affecting instance of the conversion of a poor mother: "A poor wretched girl, religiously educated, but now abandoned to misery and want, with an illegitimate child, was struck with horror at hearing this infant daughter repeat, as soon as she could well speak, some of the profane language she had taught her by example. She trembled at the thought, that she was not only going to hell herself, but leading her child thither. She instantly resolved the first sixpence she could procure, should purchase Watts' "Divine Songs," of which she had some recollection, to teach her infant daughter. She did so; and on opening the book, her eye caught the following striking stanzas:
Just as the tree cut down, that falls,
She read on; the event ended in her conversion, and she lived and died an honorable professor of religion." Thousands and tens of thousands of others have recurred in after years to these lessons of their childhood; and not a few have traced to the impressions made by their means, their direction to the paths of virtue and religion.
"I am surprised," says Mr. Cecil, "at nothing which Dr. Watts did, but his hymns for children. Other men could have written as well as he in his other works; but how he wrote these hymns I know not." Thousands of children have had them indelibly written on their memories and thousands of lisping tongues have been prepared by their instrumentality to utter the songs of heaven, which are now there swelling the chorus of saints and angels; and, doubtless, thousands more will have reason through eternity to bless God for the instruction contained in the "DIVINE AND MORAL Songs."
It is important to remark as illustrative of the policy and principles of that artful sect, which President Quincy says, "has not within it the principle of sectarianism,"* that "an edition of the Songs for children, revised and altered, was published anonymously in the year 1785, and generally attributed to the celebrated Mrs. Barbauld. The design of the accom
*See N. Y. Observer, March 29, 1845.
† Milner, p. 275 to 277.