On this date in 1674, Isaac Watts was born. Watts changed the way the English church worshiped. Before he came along, Protestant churches in England and Scotland would only sing hymns that were rhymed translations from the book of Psalms. Which isn’t a bad practice, unless, of course, you want to talk about Jesus, the Cross, the resurrection or anything from the New Testament.
Watts changed all that. In one sense, he was the English church’s first contemporary worship leader. Thanks to someone who dared to do what hadn’t been done before, we now have “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross;” “Alas and Did My Savior Bleed;” “Joy to the World;” “O God, Our Help in Ages Past;” and around 750 other hymns.
In his later years, Isaac Watts once complained about hymn singing in church: “To see the dull indifference, the negligent and thoughtless air that sits upon the faces of a whole assembly, while the psalm is upon their lips, might even tempt a charitable observer to suspect the fervency of their inward religion.”
What would he say today?
On this date in 1939, after just a month in America where he was to lecture, Dietrich Bonhoeffer went back home to Germany. Writing to Reinhold Niebuhr, he explained his decision:
I have made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period of our national history with the Christian people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.
Bonhoeffer chose to go back to his home country (booking passage on what would be the last passenger steamer to cross the Atlantic) even though he knew it was dangerous. He had hope in the gospel. He believed that after the war he could help reconstruct the Christian life in Germany, but only if he shared in the sufferings of his brothers and sisters in Germany.
Bonhoeffer was ultimately hanged in a German concentration camp in April 9 1945, two weeks before the camp was liberated by US Infantry divisions.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer chose danger over safety; solidarity over separation; and persecution over personal comfort. Did he fail in his desire to participate in the rebuilding of the church in Germany because he was executed? Not in the least.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
John 12:24, ESV