Igniting the flame throughout the centuries
Anglican and great contemporary champion of Anglican Orthodoxy Isaac Watts has a monument in Westminster Abbey with a line quoted from Watts himself inscribed in the pages of the Westminster Abbey’s Memorials. Watts, “Father of English Hymnody”, was quoted in it as having said, “Happy will be that reader whose mind is disposed, by his verses or his prose, to imitate him in all but his non-conformity, to copy his benevolence to men, and his reverence to God.” His contribution beyond the 750 hymns and prose he wrote extends to intellectual writings, some of which have ended up as schoolbooks. He spent a massive amount of his lifetime thinking about the reader or the congregation.
Who would’ve thought it humanly possible to be as prolific as Watts? Yet one gleans from his hymns that he attributed much of his arsenal of life-changing thoughts to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that godhead which ignites lives of Christians. He found “business-as-usual” Christianity disturbing so he addressed it. The hymn “Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove” was the outcome. He wrote it in his Hymns and Sacred Songs (1717), but its title there was “Breathing After the Holy Spirit; or, Fervency of Devotion Desired”.
Several revisions have been made on the hymn, including its title until it came to be the “Come, Holy Spirit Heavenly Dove” we hear three centuries after. Even the UK and US versions of it contain slight differences but these have the melodic composition of Victorian hymnodist John Bacchus Dykes in common. Some of his 300 hymns retained their respectability owing to Dykes’ dedication to the Victorian musical tradition. His tunes were published in Congregational Hymn and Tune Book (1857) and the British hymnal Hymns Ancient and Modern. The hymn he composed that became the hymn background of “Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove” is the “St. Agnes”.