Isaac Watts was a well known evangelical hymn writer who lived in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. His well known hymns includeWhat is less well known is his education and his own role as an educator.
- When I survey the wondrous Cross
- Joy to the world and
- Sweet is the work, my God, my King.
Watts' parents were not members of the Church of England, at a time when not worshiping in the local parish church was an offence. Watts' father was imprisoned for his non-conformist convictions. Isaac was 14 when the Act of Toleration was passed which gave freedom to worship to non-conformists (Protestants who were not part of the Church of England). What this Act did not give was the freedom to have a university education.
Young Isaac was a bright lad and wanted to be a minister. A wealthy friend offered to pay for his university education which at that time would be at Cambridge or Oxford. This would have meant joining the Established Church but Watts turned down the offer as he wished to stay loyal to his convictions.
Instead, Isaac went off to the Non-Conformist Academy in Stoke Newington.
Watts wasn't called to a church straight after his education but became a tutor. He wrote some books around education, including The Art of Reading and Writing English, and poems for children. His book on logic became the standard text at Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Yale for many years. Yet, even though this was an important work, it pales into insignificance compared to the effect of his hymns.
Watts was faithful to his convictions and God blessed him. That must be a lesson to us. Of course, most of us aren't educating children quite like Isaac Watts but his education is a challenge for us: that non-mainstream education was sufficiently high quality to prepare a young man to write a major text as well as to make a major contribution to hymnody.
So for me as a home educator, the challenge from Watts' life is to
- be faithful to the Lord even if that means being counter-cultural.
- provide a high standard academic education so that children are able to use their God given abilities
- remember that the spiritual outlasts, and outweighs, the academic.