Isaac Watts, nonconformist and… Unitarian?

The Newington Green Unitarian church have, in the past, claimed that the great English language hymnodist Isaac Watts was a Unitarian. The congregation’s Web site used to suggest that since Watts lived the last years of his life in the neighborhood, and since their chapel was the only dissenting congregation nearby, that Watts likely attended services there. The Wikipedia article on Watts quotes a 1958 history of the congregation, published on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of its founding (Trust in Freedom: The Story of Newington Green Unitarian Church 1708-1958, Michael Thorncroft, 1958), which states that Watts “in later life was known to have adopted decidedly Unitarian opinions.”

This revives what is apparently an old, old argument. In The Life of the Rev. Isaac Watts, D. D. by Samuel Johnson, LL.D., London: 1785, there are notes containing amniadversions and additions; to which are subjoined… an authentic account of his last sentiments on the Trinity”; this last-named account denies that Watts was an “Arian,” and claims him for the Trinitarian party:

“It has been confidently asserted by some Anti-trinitarians, that the Doctor before his death was come over to their party, and that he left some papers behind him, containing a recantation of his former sentiments, which his executors thought it most prudent to suppress. A report of this kind was lately revived, with the mention of some remarkable circumstances in confirmation of it, in the Monthly Review….”

All of which leads me to wonder what Watts’s theology actually was. He was a Nonconformist, of that there is no doubt. He was allied with the Congregationalist nonconformists. But did he have unitarian leanings? And if he did, wouldn’t it be deliciously ironic that the favorite hymn writer of many of today’s Christian evangelicals was in fact an Arian — a unitarian?