Isaac Watts “Revolutionary of Worship”
Isaac Watts was the most prolific hymn writer of his day (1674-1748). He is known for writing such timeless hymns as “Behold the Glories of the Lamb” and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” However, Watts is best known for writing the hymn “Joy to the World”—a song played worldwide during Christmas every year. During his lifetime Watts was considered by many to be a disturbance of the status quo and even possibly a heretic for the lyrics he wrote. While he wasn’t a heretic, he was a revolutionary. Watts grew up in a world where the music in every worship service consisted only of psalms or sections of Scripture put to music. Watts found the practice monotonous. To him, there was a lack of joy and emotion among the congregants as they sang. He once famously said, “To see the dull indifference, the negligent and thoughtless air that sits upon the faces of a whole assembly, while the psalm is upon their lips, might even tempt a charitable observer to suspect the fervency of their inward religion.”
Watts’s father issued a challenge. He told Watts that if he struggled with the songs they sang, then he ought to do something about it. This moment set Watts on a lifelong pursuit to write lyrics that exalted Christ and reminded Christians of their hope in his saving work on the cross.
The Second Coming Psalm 96:11-13, Psalm 98, Genesis 3:17-18, Revelation 11:15
While “Joy to the World” is primarily sung at Christmas, it’s not about the incarnation. Rather, the song tells the story of Christ’s return—his second coming. We know this for at least three reasons. First, the song speaks of the earth and nature receiving her King: Joy to the world! The Lord is come; Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room, And heaven and nature sing (Psalm 96:11-13, Psalm 98)
But is that what happened when Christ came? Scripture tells us that he was not readily received by everyone. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:3) The earth did not receive her King but like sheep, went astray. Still, we know that there will be a day when this will not be so: God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow… (Philippians 2:9-10) On that day, both heaven and nature will sing out and repeat the sounding joy for all eternity.
Second, we know this hymn is a song of Christ’s second coming because verse 3 talks about sins and sorrows being no more: No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow; Far as the curse is found (Genesis 3:17-18)
We know that this is not our current experience. In Mark 13 Jesus foretold what was yet to come after his death when he said: For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom… (Mark 13:8). The world is not sin-free. The world is not void of sorrow. Not yet, at least. Jesus told us that we should not be alarmed when we hear of the world’s brokenness. Why? Because “this must take place, but the end is not yet” (Mark 13:7). Hebrews 10 tells us: When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, (in love: John 3:16) he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. (Hebrews 10:12-13)
Although the fulfillment of all Christ’s work is not fully expressed this side of eternity, we know there will be a day when it is. Christ sits at the Father’s right hand, waiting until the perfect moment—a time when all good things will come to fruition. So we have hope.
Third, the final verse reveals that this hymn is about the second coming. It says:
He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove The glories of his righteousness, And wonders of his love (Revelation 11:15)
These final lines speak of how the nations will take an active role in revealing the glory of God. We know that all the nations of the earth are ultimately subject to God’s ever-sovereign hand. He is the one who gives authority, and he’s the one who takes it away. He uses every mistake, every poor decision, every war, every calamity, and every season of prosperity, all for his glory. But we have not yet seen the nations of this world intentionally seeking to prove the wonders and glories of our ultimate King. In fact, they often seek to defame the name of God. But he will not share his glory with another. The Bible states all throughout its contents that all the nations will worship before Him.(Psalms 85:9). The day will come when we can say, “He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove” This will be at His second coming and begin on the earth for 1000 years and then in the kingdom of heaven forevermore. (Revelation 20:2,7,11,21:1-4)
So why do we sing this song at Christmas? It is clearly a song about Christ’s second coming— but wait… there is no second coming without a first coming!
Christmas is not only a time to look back at the grace of God revealed in our past. Christmas is also a time to look forward to the grace poured out for our future. The Joy of the world has come but He is coming again, and His light is revealed in we who believe
Light up the World With His Love 1 Thessalonians :4-1, 1John 4:18
Light up the world Christians with the Love & Joy He has poured out on you. He is coming again so live as “children of the light”until He comes again. Shout for Joy this Christmas and forever more!