Joy to the World, Part 1


“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!” Psalm 98:4

Isaac Watts (1674-1748) is considered to be the Father of English Hymnody. Producing over 700 hymns, he reformed traditional church music of his day. His hymns fell into two broad categories: paraphrases of Scripture and devotional verses. He believed that “truly Christian praise must go beyond the mere words of Scripture to become original expressions of devotion and that the Hebrew psalms had to be Christianized to be appropriate for authentically Christian worship.” His hymns changed the face of worship and laid the groundwork for other great English hymn writers such as Charles Wesley, William Cowper, John Newton, and others.[1]

Among Watts’ many enduring hymns still sung today is one hymn that has become the beloved Christmas carol, “Joy to the World”[2] (1719). Here are the first two stanzas:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

Following his convictions about worship, Watts penned this hymn as a paraphrase of Psalm 98. This psalm celebrates the righteous reign of God, focusing on God as Savior, Sovereign, and Judge. Despite the severe connotations our modern ears hear with such words, the psalmist exalted in great joy at these three roles of God. Watts saw these roles personified in Jesus Christ.

In these first two stanzas, Watts recalls those attributes which Jesus displayed as Savior: strength, righteousness, and faithfulness. Such a great Savior demands great praise. All people are enjoined to offer praise to the King for they are the recipients of the salvation He offers. So great is this Savior that all of creation, heaven and earth, are called to praise Him. And, as people praise Him, the created order joins in the chorus of praise. Nature is God’s workmanship and brings glory to Him.

This carol looks beyond the manger and the stable. It looks to the reality that Christ is already reigning. Jesus, the Lord and King, has come in his first advent. He comes with salvation for all that believe and this work of salvation is marvelous. What is our proper response? We must make room in our hearts, our affections, and our lives for this King. Join the chorus and “repeat the sounding joy!”

For more insight to this topic, get the book,
A Passion for God’s Reign, by Jurgen Moltmann and Ellen T. Charry, from our online store. Or read the article, “The North Star of Biblical Worldview,” by T. M. Moore.

[1] Hugh T. McElrath, “Isaac Watts” in Handbook to the Baptist Hymnal (Nashville: Convention Press, 1992), 480-481.

[2] Hear the hymn tune and see all the lyrics at

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