The Tabernacle Choir Blog

Elder Nelson Discusses the Life of Isaac Watts

Isaac Watts wrote the lyrics for nearly a dozen hymns in the LDS hymnbook, including “Come, We That Love the Lord” and “Sweet Is the Work”. In 2008, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles discussed Watts’s life in a talk he gave at Brigham Young University. An excerpt from that talk is below.

Who can help but be moved by the lyrics in a hymn such as “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” by English poet Isaac Watts? The message focuses on the Atonement of Jesus Christ:

When I survey the wondrous cross,
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord! that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ, my God:
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood. …
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Indeed, Isaac Watts did demand much from himself. In his lifetime he wrote approximately 600 hymns. Two of his most productive years were between his graduation from school at age 20 and his taking a job teaching when he was 22. At that young age many great hymns flowed from him.

Later in Elder Nelson’s talk, he offered the following message on how music can protect us:

Worthy music is not only a source of power but also of protection. For many years President Boyd K. Packer, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has taught this concept. He has often quoted a statement issued by the First Presidency many years ago: “Music can be used to exalt and inspire or to carry messages of degradation and destruction. It is therefore important that as Latter-day Saints we at all times apply the principles of the gospel and seek the guidance of the Spirit in selecting the music with which we surround ourselves.”

In both “Come, We That Love the Lord” and “Sweet Is the Work”, Watts highlights the protection, joys, and blessings that come as we live the gospel.