Tuesday, January 31, 2012

“Give ‘em Watts, Boys!”

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them … Acts 16:25

Believe it or not, a 17th-century British hymn writer indirectly helped American troops to withstand British forces almost one hundred years later, during the Revolutionary War.

Isaac Watts was born on July 7, 1674, in Southampton, England. His father was a religious dissenter who spent much time in jail as a result. Young Isaac learned Latin at the age of five, Greek at nine, French at eleven and Hebrew at thirteen. For twelve years, his mother taught him to write rhyme and verse. He devoted much of that learning to hymns.

Altogether he penned more than 600 hymns. Among the best known, still beloved today, are: “Joy to the World;” “O God Our Help in Ages Past;” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross;” “I Sing the Mighty Power of God;” “When I Can Read My Title Clear;” “Alas and Did My Savior Bleed” (also known as, "At the Cross"); “Am I a Soldier of the Cross?” and, “Come We That Love the Lord” (also known as, “We’re Marching to Zion”).

English immigrants to the American colonies brought hymnals, filled with Watts’ songs, with them to the New World. They intended to use them just for singing, of course, but war changed their plans. On June 23, 1780, at the Battle of Springfield (New Jersey), British forces attacked with about 5000 men and almost 20 cannon. They seemed invincible. Gen. George Washington had left the area, leaving others to face the invading army.

During the battle the American colonists ran out of ‘wad’ for their muskets. A chaplain on the scene ran into the nearby church building and gathered up the hymn books, containing Watts’ songs. He then proceeded to tear out the pages and give them to the soldiers to be used to wad their muskets, as he yelled out, "Give 'em Watts, boys!" They did. The British forces retreated, never to attack New Jersey again. From the Battle of Springfield came the modern phrase used to express anger, "to give them 'watt' for."

Paul and Silas “wadded their muskets” with songs of praise in a Philippian jail. Jesus and His disciples sang a hymn after the Last Supper, before going to Gethsemane. David found God’s strength through song when persecuted by Saul, attacked by the Philistines, and defied by his son Absalom. Paul spoke of this “wadding:” “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Col 3:16

Christian, use that songbook! Fill your heart and your lips with victorious songs of God’s glory. Come into His presence with praise and thanks. Share those songs with your family. Live out the words you sing. Then watch the enemy run.
Cory Collins

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