Who said children cannot understand theology?

Sarah Watts had a remarkable young son, Isaac, who grew up to write hundreds of hymns for kids - designed to enable children to grasp deep theological truths when conveyed in simple, memorable, singable words. He knew it was possible from his own childhood experience.

From an early age Isaac Watts spoke in rhymes. The habit came to prominence one day when he giggled during family prayers. He had seen a mouse climbing a bell pull. When his father rebuked him for his irreverence and asked why he laughed, the young lad replied:
          There was a mouse for want of stairs       
          Ran up a rope to say his prayers.

Before long his constant rhyming became irritating to his parents, so his father decided that a good spanking was the only way to help him remember to stop what he had many times been forbidden to do. But as his father prepared to raise the chosen implement to silence the incessant rhyming once and for all, Watts cried out:
          O father, do some mercy take
          And I will no more verses make.

It was as result of the mercy extended that day that the church has benefited for centuries from the gift that flourished in that young boy as he became one of our greatest hymn-writers.

But his parents continued to be suspicious, finding it hard to believe that the handwritten poems he showed them were really Isaac's own work. To check him out, Sarah sat her 7-year old son down at the kitchen table to write a poem for her on the spot. As Douglas Bond tells us in the book we referred to previously, this is what he came up with spontaneously:

I am a vile polluted lump of earth;
So I've continued since my birth;
Although Jehovah grace does daily give me,
As sure this monster Satan will deceive me.
Come, therefore, Lord, from Satan's claws relieve me.

Wash me in thy blood, O Christ,
And grace divine impart.
Then search and try the corners of my heart,
That I in all things may be fit to do
Service to thee and sing thy praises too.

Bond writes, "Young Watts needed ten lines because he chose to write a poem that would not only rhyme but would also be an acrostic on his name, "Isaac Watts," which has ten letters. This was, no doubt, one of those moments that a mother cherishes and hides up in her heart. Imagine Sarah Watts' wonder at her son's gifting, but still more the gratitude to God any Christian mother would have for so obvious a working of grace in her son's heart." [Douglas Bond: The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts. Chapter 1]

From such a prodigious start, Issac Watts honed his skills so that by 1715 he published "Divine Songs Attempted in Easy Language for the Use of Children" which shaped generations of children. A hundred years after Watts' death, Lewis Carroll was so sure that children were familiar with Watts' 'Divine Songs' that, in 'Alice in Wonderland', he parodied Watts' poem about idleness.

Watts had written:           How doth the little busy bee / Improve each shining hour?
Carroll re-worked it:       How doth the little crocodile / Improve his shining tail?

Watts told "all that are concerned in the Education of Children..." that his desire was that God's blessing would rest upon his work so that so that children who learned his Divine Songs might be a "glory amongst the nations". He suggested that parents and teachers have their children learn one song per week, and that when they had ten or twenty of them memorized they should be given their own copies. Children haven't changed. Such a strategy, given such profound material, could again shape children to be a glory among the nations as Watts' works did for 150 years.


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