June 23, 2019
The British troops continued to push the colonists further into Springfield, New Jersey. With five Red Coats for every one Patriot, the odds seemed overwhelming. However, the Americans continued to present a powerful defense, giving their opponent a demanding fight. That is until they ran out of wadding, or paper, to wrap their gunpowder in before placing it in their muskets. Without that wadding, they were virtually unarmed.
As the fight continued, Reverend James Caldwell rallied the soldiers as he rode among the troops. Upon hearing the men yelling for more wadding. Caldwell quickly raced his horse to the church and grabbed a stack of hymn books written by the prominent hymn-writer of the time, Isaac Watts. Hurrying back to the fight, Caldwell tossed the hymn books to the soldiers. As the men started ripping the pages out to use as wadding, Caldwell shouted, “Give ‘em Watts, boys! Put Watts into ‘em.”
With the necessary supply of paper, the colonists beat back the Red Coats and won the Battle of Springfield on June 23, 1780. Following the defeat, British General Henry Clinton decided to focus on the South, never entering New Jersey or the North again. However, on their way out of Springfield, the British set fire to the buildings, destroying all but four of them. Included in the casualties was the Presbyterian Church Caldwell retrieved the hymnals from, yet the good reverend's words to the soldiers would live on through history even until today.
Following the Reformation, the fight for religious freedom struck a chord with those all throughout Europe. (see and ) Isaac Watts, born July 7, 1674, in Southhampton, England, experienced this first hand as his father spent considerable time in prison as a religious dissenter. His parents dearly loved God's Word, yet rejected being forced to conform to the Church of England. (see )
Watts learned Latin at age five and knew Greek, French, and Hebrew all by age thirteen. In addition, his mother spent over a decade teaching him to write rhyme and verse. While Watts appreciated the doctrines and services of his church, the music lacked passion for him. Martin Luther understood the importance of the music and hymns in the church as they should be used to teach the congregation, especially the children, as much as the sermon does. Therefore, he wrote multiple hymns, including his most famous, "A Mighty Fortress," inspired by Psalm 46. However, most other Protestant churches followed John Calvin's lead, who preferred only metrical psalms.
After years of complaining to his family about the dull and sterile music, Watts's father finally challenge, "Why don't you give us something better, young man!" Within a week, the 15-year-old composed his first hymn,"Behold the Glories of the Lamb," which he immediately gave to the church. The congregation's overwhelming approval lit a fire in the "Father of English Hymnody" that would not be soon extinguished.
Watts's notable brilliance generated several offers from wealthy townspeople to provide his expenses to Oxford or Cambridge. Watts refused the generous gifts knowing such universities would have prepared him for a ministry in the Anglican Church, or Church of England. Instead, he opted for Dissenting Academy, a leading Nonconformist school in Stoke Newington in north-east London, at age 16.
Watts accepted a position of pastor of London's Mark Lane Independent Chapel in 1702, but resigned his position in 1712 due to health reasons. However, his hymn and psalm writing continued. While still at the chapel, he published Hymns and Spiritual Songs in 1707, which contained such beloved English hymns as "When I Survey The Wondrous Cross." While he did not appreciate the metrical portion of his church's songs, he loved the psalms. Watts contended “They (psalms) ought to be translated in such a manner as we have reason to believe David would have composed them if he had lived in our day." Therefore, he published Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament in 1719. Within its pages contained Psalm 98 composed as "Joy to the World." Psalm 72 inspired "Jesus Shall Reign Where'er the Sun" and "O God Our Help in Ages Past" is Psalm 90. Other well-known Watts hymns include, “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.”
Understanding David fought against personal foes, such as Saul, Watts addressed the average Christian's attackers: temptation, sin, and the ultimate accuser, Satan. Watts argued, "Where the flights of his faith and love are sublime, I have often sunk the expressions within the reach of an ordinary Christian.” His hymns also remind us of the Glory of Christ and to lay our worries at the foot of the cross. Though his illness took him out of the pulpit, his hymns have taught millions of the love of God and His grace through His son, Jesus.
In addition to his 600 songs, Watts wrote three volumes of sermons, articles on philosophy, psychology, and astronomy, and almost 30 theological papers. Watts composed the very first children’s hymnal, Divine and Moral Songs for Children in 1715, which included songs instructing children on the 10 Commandments, truths about the Bible, creation, eternal life and death, and how to lead a Godly life, all based on scripture. He also authored a textbook, which remained a prominent standard work on logic for decades.
Unmarried and childless, Watts died on November 25, 1748, at age 74 at the home of a dear friend of which he lived for over 25 years. A nonconformist and dissenter of the Church of England like his father, Watts was forbidden to be laid to rest within London’s city limits. Therefore, he was buried outside the city walls in Bunhill Fields.
Watts not only made an impact in Britain, he also greatly influenced America. As Englishmen seeking freedom, including religious freedom, traveled to the New World, many usually brought two items with them: The Bible and their Watts Hymnal. Reverend Cotton Mather, who along with his father Reverend Increase Mather worked to end the Salem Witch Trials, enjoyed a lengthy long-distance friendship with Watts. (see ) Methodist founders, Charles and John Wesley, greatly admired Watts and used his works. In the colonies, Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield, ushered in “The (First) Great Awakening,” using the Watts Hymnal as a guide, which Benjamin Franklin published in his printing shop. (see )
Ministers in America’s pulpits influenced by “The Great Awakening” and the Watts Hymnal, preached of freedom and liberty. Known as the “Black Robe Regiment,” these ministers, such as Reverend John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg (see ) and Reverend Caldwell, preached the liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ. When the time came to defend their religious and other freedoms, they also led their congregations onto the battlefield. Black evangelists at the time, including Harry Hoosier (see ) and John Marrant (see ), also used the Watts Hymnal as they preached the Good News of Jesus Christ to blacks, both free and enslaved, and Native Americans. Watts’s influence went well into the 19th Century as Reverend Charles Spurgeon included multiple pieces by Watts in his own Our Own Hymn-book in 1866. (see )
If not for Caldwell’s quick thinking during the Battle of Springfield, it may have ended up in a hard fought defeat due to exhausted ammunition supplies, like the Battle of Bunker Hill. (see ) Caldwell’s charge of “Give ‘em Watts, boys,” was quickly cemented into history, largely due to a poem published later that year by Francis Bret Harte entitled Caldwell Of Springfield. People still use Caldwell’s explanation when they are angry. However, over time, his directive became “Give ‘em what for!”
Liberty, on multiple occasions throughout the Revolution, the Americans overcame overwhelming odds against the British. Given the superior munitions, training, and expertise of the Red Coats, some argue the Americas had amazing luck. Others, like myself, would content their victory was nothing less than Divine Providence. (see ) George Washington prayed on bended knee to God Almighty for guidance and mercy, which he and the colonists received. Something America desperately needs to do now.
America could very well benefit from Caldwell’s advise today, as we have grossly abandoned God and his instruction for us. As citizens attack each other over policies, ideologies, theologies, or just blinded anger, our best defense should be wrapped in the saving grace of Christ, as we find in Watts’s hymns, followed by a heavy dose of forgiveness. We could heal our nation by genuinely returning to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, starting in our churches. People are lost and are searching for answers. Satan knows this and is misleading them in every way he can. But the truth will set them free, and we must be ready and willing to give it.
The fight is hard Liberty, but the solution is easy. “Give ‘em Watts, boys!”
That’s my 2 cents.
GIVE 'EM WATTS, BOYS!