It’s that time of year where I choose a Christmas Carol to blog on. I occasionally have to look back and make sure I choose one that I haven’t already written about. Joy to the World is one that I have wanted to blog about for quite some time, but certain issues have prevented me. For those newer followers of my blog, here are the carols I have blogged about in the past.
I’m finally ready to blog on this great hymn. For years it has puzzled me as to why this is a Christmas Carol. Even as a young child as I sang this song it didn’t make sense that it was being sung at Christmas. The whole song seemed to talk of Christ coming to earth to reign in power and glory. That really doesn’t fit with Christ coming at Christmas as a babe in a manger. In fact, I cannot find any part of the Christmas story in this hymn. There is a reason for that. Isaac Watts did not write this song for Christmas. It was never intended to be a Christmas Carol. Somehow, someway, divine providence has taken this poem about Christ’s coming to reign over the earth and made it a part of the world wide singing that goes on each Christmas season.
For quite some time I struggled with being able to sing this song at all. After all, Christ is not reigning over the nations right now. Sins and sorrows are still growing and the curse is still found and you don’t even have to look for it because it will find you! How can I in good conscience sing a song that proclaims that the Savior is reigning and nature is singing when this is clearly referring to a future event? In spite of that, I am finally at peace with singing this song joyfully even in the here and now. The reason being is due to my position as a historic premillennialist. Let me explain but first let’s have a little history on how this hymn came to be.
Isaac Watts was a prolific writer especially concerning the psalms. Well after his death, Lowell Mason took the second portion of his poem on Psalm 98 and set it to an older tune that may have partially been written by Handel. This second portion of the poem is what we know now as Joy to the World. Here is the original poem that Isaac Watts wrote.
Psalm 98:1. First Part.
Praise for the gospel.
1 To our almighty Maker, God,
New honours be address’d;
his great salvation shines abroad,
And makes the nations blest.
2 He spake the word to Abraham first,
His truth fulfils the grace:
The Gentiles make his Name their trust,
And learn his righteousness.
3 Let the whole earth his love proclaim
With all her different tongues;
And spread the honours of his Name
In melody and songs.
Psalm 98:2. Second Part.
The Messiah’s coming and kingdom.
1 Joy to the world; the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing.
2 Joy to the earth, the Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains,
Repeat the sounding joy.
3 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.
4 He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness,
And wonders of his love.
In Psalm 98, Watts saw Christ as coming to rule and reign. I’m not entirely certain of Watts views on eschatology, but the heading and the inclusion of the first part of the song shows that he believed that the proclamation found in Psalm 98 is the very gospel message that we preach. I am in complete agreement with that. When John the Baptist and then Christ came preaching the gospel of the kingdom, they announced the Kingdom of God as being at hand. That is no wonder because the King Himself was in their midst performing miracles attesting to the Kingdom of God as having come upon them, see Luke 11:20. Those who would apprehend the message of the Kingdom of God were pressing into it, see Matthew 11:11-13, Luke 16:16. Prostitutes and thieves were entering the Kingdom of God because they believed the gospel of the kingdom and repented, see Matthew 21:28-32, Colossians 1:13; while the religious were left on the outside because they couldn’t fathom their need to repent. After Christ ascended, the Holy Spirit led the church to continue preaching the gospel of the kingdom throughout the entire world. We as the church are proclaiming the message of Psalm 98 in advance of the Messiah descending as promised.
To expound upon this further, there is a direct parallel between Psalm 96 and Psalm 98. Psalm 96 is a command for a certain group of people to proclaim the glory of the LORD amongst the Gentile nations. It is a new song that they are to sing. Later in the psalm, there is an emphasis upon the message to include that the LORD reigns, see verse 10. It specifically states, “Say among the Gentiles that the LORD reigns.” Just after this it foretells that the LORD is coming to judge the earth. My conclusion is that during this present time of the church preaching the gospel, that we are to state in no uncertain terms amongst non-believers that the LORD reigns. This is part of the gospel of the kingdom. We announce that reign in advance of the actual manifestation of the glorious epiphany foretold in Psalm 97. Yes the LORD will come and reign in power and glory, but we have the privilege of announcing that reign in advance in the here and now by faith.
So, since I am to proclaim the future reign of the Christ in the here and now, what better way than to sing a song which fully extols His reign amongst the nations? Just because it is Christmas does not mean that we cannot exalt the Savior and point out that one day He will reign on the throne of David here on earth, see Luke 1:32. I’m all for Christmas Carols that tell of the Christ Child in the manger. Many have a dual focus, telling of the humble incarnation and the future, glorious reign of Christ in the same song. But here is a hymn which simply proclaims the reign of the Messiah. Every heart must prepare room because He will come and reign. Heaven and nature will sing in a way that we thought impossible. The sea roars, the rivers clap their hands, the fields, trees, and hills rejoice because the LORD is coming to judge the earth with righteousness and the people with truth. Everywhere you see a curse, His blessings will flow. In direct contrast to the present denial of the nations that God exists, they will bring forth absolute proof that the LORD is to be trusted because of the wonders of His love.
I don’t know how the mix up happened, but I’m sure glad it did. I’m also glad that I struggled with this Christmas Carol at first. Now I truly understand my privilege to announce the future yet present reign of the Messiah to those who do not understand. Joining in wherever this song is sung is a small part in that. In case you haven’t heard:
Joy to the world, the LORD is come!
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman