When Isaac Watts was a young man, he became dissatisfied with the quality of singing in the British churches. The songs sung were almost entirely taken from the Psalms in Scripture which were translated into poems with rhyme and rhythm so that they could be sung. Watts, therefore, began writing hymns to be sung that were outside the Psalter thereby “inventing” the English hymn.
He did not ignore the Psalms, however. In 1719, Watts wrote Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament. In this work, he paraphrased 138 psalms from the perspective of his New Testament faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Watts stated that: “I have rather expressed myself as I may suppose David would have done if he lived in the days of Christianity.”
The hymn “Joy to the World” was included in Watts’ work and it describes the incarnation of Christ, the presence of Christ in our hearts through the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the return of Christ as described in the book of Revelation.
Psalm 98 depicts the salvation of God in three tenses:
- Salvation in the past for the people of Israel (verses 1-3)
- Salvation in the present for all the earth because God is King (verses 4-6) and
- Salvation in the future for the entire universe because God will be coming to judge at the end of time. (verses 7-9)
In other words, Christ is not just a Babe in the manger. Christ is our Savior and, as such, He is the Victorious Warrior and Judge who is the fulfillment of David’s prayer for righteous deliverance.
Christ has won the battle. It is the Lord who completed the prophesy of Genesis 3:15 as the One who put enmity between the serpent and the woman. Both the carol and Psalm 98 tell us what our response should be to such great salvation given by our God. For the Christian, the carol rightly proclaims Joy, which is our gift from God because of the atoning work of Jesus Christ.
God’s covenant people in all nations and of all tongues joyfully tell of His salvation and righteousness, His sovereign reign and judgment. When we consider God and all that He has done on our behalf, both in the past and in the present, we cannot possibly do anything other than praise and worship Him.
Even nature joins in the celebration of praise. Nature gives God praise because God is its creator.
Paul says in Romans 8:18-23 that all creation waits and longs for the return of the Lord. When man sinned in the Garden of Eden, all creation including nature was corrupted. But, when Jesus Christ returns as the triumphant victor over sin, the creation will be released from bondage and will receive the freedom of the glory of the Lord.
Psalm 98 envisions the glorification that is referenced centuries later in the New Testament writings and to which we are still looking forward to with eager anticipation:
“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
Here is “Joy to the World” from the Christmas program entitled “The Joy of Christmas”, as sung by the choir of my home church and as accompanied by members of the Knoxville Symphony.
“A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance” (Proverbs 15:13) and
“Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.” (Psalm 33:3)
May this Christmas season find you praising the Lord and singing carols and hymns, even if you can’t carry a tune in a barrel. The Lord looks at your heart, so He will know you are praising Him no matter how it sounds to those around you!
Cheerful countenance and loud shouts! That sounds like joyful praising to me!
Father, thank You for the One who provides true joy to us daily and for the joy that comes eternally through Jesus Christ our Lord.