For the Beauty of the Earth: Ecological Theology in the Hymns of Isaac Watts

Almighty Maker, God,
How wondrous is thy name!
Thy glories how diffused abroad,
Through the creation’s frame.

In almost creed-like fashion, these four lines of verse by Isaac Watts direct the reader’s attention to God, the Almighty Maker. A vivid word-picture ensues describing how the glory of God is “diffused” into the work of His hands. As Calvin said, “It is the Holy Spirit who, everywhere diffused, sustains all things, causes them to grow, and quickens them in heaven and in earth.” Creation then, reflects the glory of the Creator. This ecological and theological awareness in Watts’s hymns will be the focus of this paper.

What, however, does ecology have to do with theology? Some might consider ecology a secular concern. Theological ecologist, Steven Bouma-Prediger, answers the above question in two parts: First is the “theological insight that we are creatures.” Second is that we are “living in a world not of our own making.” He reasons that this awareness—what he refers to as “ecological literacy”—should “engender humility.” Humility begins by being cognizant of who we are as creatures in the vast universe of God’s creation. For example, the psalmist wrote, “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars . . . What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4). The same sentiment is echoed by poet Wendell Berry: “within it [Creation] even great men are small.” A Christian faith, however, looks to both a Creator and Redeemer of creation. The cross becomes part of the creation story. “Creation without redemption,” notes Emil Brunner, “is another gospel.” Furthermore, as Allen Ross points out, “the goal of creation and redemption is communion with God.”

In this paper, I will show how the hymns of Isaac Watts praise God as both Creator and Redeemer through an ecological theology. The study begins with a look at how theology and ecology are related. I will follow with a sampling of Watts’s hymns that reveal praise for the beauty of the earth, the majesty of the Creator, and the sacrificial love of the Redeemer. To conclude, it will be determined that the hymns instill humility—a necessary component in worship, the Christian faith, and an ecological literacy.

4 thoughts on “For the Beauty of the Earth: Ecological Theology in the Hymns of Isaac Watts”

  1. A new look at Watts and doctrines of creation and redemption
    I would welcome this new look at Watts and doctrines of creation and redemption.

    Also (as Ron mentions) I would welcome a female presenter in the BW section.

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  2. Seems to be a tangential fit…
    I would be interested to hear this paper. Over the last couple of years we have had several hymnological related papers which to me feel closely related to Biblical Worship, but almost feel like they would be better suited in an open section because they don’t fall squarely in this realm. That being said, this is a proposal that I would like to hear and certainly would not object to our including it.

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