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Saturday, 15 August 2015

Hymn Writer

Isaac Watts (1674-1748) was born in Southampton, England, the son of a Congregationalist minister, who was incarcerated twice for his non-conformist views. He followed his father into the ministry, pasturing a large Independent Chapel in London. His books on theology and logic gained him wide repute, but Watts considered his sacred songs to be his most significant contribution to the church. He wrote over 750 hymns, and is recognized as the 'Father of English Hymnody'.

Watts was the first to write hymn words based on personal feelings and testimony. When he used the word "I" in the opening line of his most famous hymn, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," he was actually revolutionizing the way people express their faith in music.

The Presbyterian pioneer of congressional singing, Lowell Mason, was born in 1792. He composed the music for a thousand hymns, including "Nearer My God to Thee," and "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross."

For centuries the Church of England asserted that since there are no hymns in the Book of Common Prayer, their use in church was illegal. In the late 1810s, the vicar of a Shropshire parish, Reginald Heber (1783-1826), tried to secure from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London official Episcopal authorization to use a small hymnbook containing hymns he had written, but they declined to grant it. Among the sacred songs Heber had penned were “From Greenland's Icy Mountains” and "Holy, Holy, Holy." A collection of Heber's hymns was eventually published shortly after his death.

John Bacchus Dykes (see below), a church organist and vicar of St. Oswald's, Durham, resolutely upheld the high church tradition, to the consternation of his bishop, and was something of a renegade figure in the Victorian Church. Worn out with his labors and constant friction with his bishop, Dykes died on January 22, 1876, just fifty-two years old. His admirers raised £10,000 to support his widow and children.
Dykes wrote over 300 hymn tunes in his lifetime. The hymn by which he is best remembered today, is the tune Nicaea for Reginald Heber's text of "Holy, Holy, Holy," which was found among his papers after he passed away. The tune name is a tribute to the First Council of Nicaea which formalized the doctrine of the Trinity in 325.


The blind American hymn writer, Fanny Crosby (1820-1915), was incredibly prolific, penning over 8,000 hymns, more than any other person.  Fanny was once asked if she wished that she hadn't been born without sight. She replied the good thing about being born blind is she knew the first face she would see would be the face of Jesus. 

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