As a young man, Watts had complained about the dismal singing in the churches. His father told him that if he was dissatisfied, “write something better.” Watts believed that the Psalms should be more singable than people were accustomed to and that Jesus Christ should be more strongly reflected in the Psalter terminology. With a natural skill at rhyming, (for which he had been rebuked as a child) and a profound sense of the necessity of praise, prayer, thanksgiving, and theological expression, he produced a psalter, well-received by most churches.
In 1707 he published Hymns and Spiritual Songs, which included the all-time favorite, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. He rewrote the Psalter in Psalms of David Imitated in the language of the New Testament, with Psalm 78 becoming Joy to the World, Psalm 72, Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun, and Psalm 90, Our God Our Help in Ages Past. Some saw Watts’s paraphrasing as playing fast and loose with Scripture, and not to be borne in godly worship.