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Durham e-Theses
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Peculiar ground: the theology of Isaac Watts

Wilkinson, R. W. (1981) Peculiar ground: the theology of Isaac Watts. Masters thesis, Durham University.

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Abstract

The thesis is designed to demonstrate what was distinctive about Isaac Watts. It begins with a brief account of his life and background. There is no attempt at comprehensive coverage but rather a discussion of significant detail. Then follows a survey of Watts' work - first his poetry, then his prose. Watts' writings on the Atonement are critically analysed, followed by his views on election and predestination. The purpose here is to demonstrate that Watts had a profound commitment to traditional theology, in particular to the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. However, he displays a thoroughly humane and reasonable attitude to the difficulties posed by this doctrine, and by the doctrine of predestination. Watts could fairly be described as a follower of Baxter whom he much admired. His salient characteristics were common sense and devotion to Scripture. Against this background Watts' writings on the Trinity are considered. Here his pursuit of reason and his desire to help others and to reconcile conflicting opinions led him into much more stormy waters. His mature conviction was that God had covenanted with the pre-existent human soul of Christ in order to redeem the world. This mildly heretical doctrine, derived from Origen, served to deflect Watts from out and out Socinianism and Arianism, both of which creeds held a dangerous attraction for him. The possibility is explored that at the end of his life Watts had written tracts which were definitely Unitarian - and which were subsequently destroyed. This would account for the self-torturing anguish of the Solemn Address, Watts' desperate cry to God for help and guidance. Lastly, the 'peculiar' gifts of Isaac Watts are stressed, so that the success of his religious verse can be evaluated. The qualities which he displayed in all his writings combined to produce his 'System of Praise', his enduring legacy to the Christian church. His heresy has been forgotten. But Watts' heresy helps us to understand his hymns, and his hymns help us to understand his heresy.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Letters
Thesis Date:1981
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:18 Sep 2013 09:20

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