The Story Behind “Joy To The World” Hymn

Joy To The World Hymn

Joy To The World

Joy to the world is one of the famous Christmas hymns. The word of the hymn was penned down by Isaac Watts. Isaac Watts is considered to be one of the prolific hymn writers with a lot of hymns accredited to his name. The hymn is for the joyous celebration of Christmas and it painted most of the believer’s earth with joy to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  Also, it stimulates them spiritually to the second coming of the Lord in addition to his sovereignty and the gift of Christ.

Hymn writer – Isaac Watts

Joy To The World Hymn by Isaac Watts

Isaac Watts wrote the Hymn Joy to the World in the late 1600s. He was born on the 17th of July 1674 in England. Specifically, in Southampton city at Hampshire country in the South East of England.  Isaac Watts was an English Nonconformist minister popularly known for Hymn writing. The hymn writer is also a theologian and logician and was considered as Godfather of English Hymnody. Also, he is one of the popular hymn writers in history.

Isaac Watts as a young man displayed total genius at a tender age. He was able to learn several languages as a little child at King Edward VI School, Southampton. At age of 4 years, he was learning Latin, and Greek at age of 9.  He learned French at age of 11 as and also Hebrew at age of 13. In fact, he used the French he learned to talk informally with his refugee neighbours.  All this he was able to achieve despite not too strong health-wise and frequently ill.

Isaac Watts respectfully rejected all the offers he received to study at the University of Oxford or Cambridge. This reason is that he was a nonconformist and the two universities were especially for Anglicans. The situation was due to the government stand at that period and acceptance of the offer could have obligated him to join the Anglican ministry.

ALSO READ: Story Behind The Hymn It Is Well With My Soul

He then left for London to study at the Dissenting Academy in 1690 at age of 16. The Dissenting Academy is a leading Nonconformist Academy at Stoke Newington in London. At the institution, he studied and came through in higher mathematics and philosophy. Moreover, some part of His life was centered around that town. Because he still served as a private tutor for five years after his graduation from the school.

The little Isaac Watts started displaying a poetic gift in him in the early years of his childhood in his father’s house. Eventually, he grew up and use the gift to penned down many sacred songs of faith. Truly, his songs have positively impacted the life of thousands of people during his lifetime. And also affected millions of people after his demise. Isaac Watt started writing hymns when he saw a new way to write Psalms used in worship by the then Dissenting churches.

According to his opinion, the way they were rendering the psalm was monotonous, crude, and lacked true expression of the joy among the congregants in Christian worship. When he actually made this known to his father, he told Isaac Watts to do something better. As a result, he wrote the lyrics of the hymn “Behold the glories of the Lamb”.  That was the starting point to his hymn writing and he wrote many more hymns like Joy to the world and others.

ALSO READ: What You Need To Know About The Hymn I, The Lord of Sea and Sky

In particular, Hymn is a sacred song purposefully sing to worship and praise God. It is not the same thing as the Psalm which is in the Bible. However, it is a lyrical illustration of devotion drawn from the Book of Psalms. Before Isaac Watts developed a new lyrical expression of singing in worship, Psalmody or Psalm-singing was the actual way of singing.  Actually, Isaac’s hymn is majorly based on Psalm but he used the fresh language of worship that virtually anybody would comprehend.

On a further note, Isaac Watts was appointed as an assistant pastor to Dr. Isaac Chauncy at Mark Lane Independent Chapel in London in 1699. He later succeeded him in 1702 and he was made a pastor at the same church in London. However, the illness made him committed more of his work to his assistant in the person of Rev. Samuel Price.

Eventually, he resigned from the active work in 1712 and maintain his prolific writing for the rest of his life. That same year, he honoured an invitation to convalesce for a week at Sir Thomas Abney’s home in Hertfordshire. Consequently, he was there 36 years and till the end of his life on November 25, 1748.

Story Behind The Joy To The World Hymn

Joy To The World Hymn

Joy to the world is a popular hymn that was inspired by Psalm 98 as paraphrased by Isaac Watt. Isaac Watts wrote Joy to the World as a poem under a tree at the Abney Estate near London while meditating on Psalm 98. He first published it in 1719 as part of his hymns and spiritual songs in his book called The Psalms of David. The Hymn appears on page 253 of the book as Psalm XCVIII second part. Also, it was tagged the Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom.

Actually, the hymn was not written for the Christmas purpose which marks the first coming of Christ. Obviously, it was written for the glory of the Lord and his second coming. In fact, the people of that era started celebrating Christmas in 1856. Before that time, Christmas was considered a criminal offense because they believe the Bible did not command them to do so. And the Hymn was written around that era of Christianity.

ALSO READ: What You Need To know About The Hymn Immortal Invisible God Only Wise

Moreover, Psalm 98 and Joy to the world connected nothing with the birth of Christ and the Christmas celebration. The lyrics of the hymn do not relate anything to Christmas other than Joy it brings to the World. In particular, Joy to The World is the focal point of the hymn that sticks with the Christmas celebration.  In addition, part of the first line also declares that the Lord has come. But in general, it describes neither the birth of the Lord nor other elements of Christmas like a manger, wise men, and Angel.

In the words of the hymn, much attention was given to nature in the body of the first and second verse to shout and sing joyfully for Christ. In addition, the third and fourth verses declare His victory over sin and sorrow, as well as His righteousness and love. Again, rather than proclaiming the birth of Christ, the Hymn focuses on the triumphant comeback of Christ in glory. Generally, the Hymn advocates how Christ will rule and establish his judgment in his second coming. And when he considered how glorious and righteous that would be, it declared “Joy to The World”. In short, the hymn proclaims the joy for all mankind in his first coming that will manifest in his second coming.

The Tune Of The Hymn

Joy To The World Hymn Lyrics

The tune majorly used for this hymn is called ANTIOCH. The tune was borrowed from different melodies discovered in Handel’s Messiah. Though there are several speculations about the original composer of the melody, the tune is generally credited to Handel. On the other hand, the arrangement of the tune is often attributed to Lowell Mason. Also, Lowell Mason is known for the combination of the hymn’s text and the ANTIOCH tune. It was believed that Mason borrow the tune from Handel’s music and ascribed the tune to Handel himself.

Actually, there is a popular belief that the ANTIOCH tune has been around before it was published with the “Joy to the world’s text in 1939 by Lowell Mason. In particular, the phrase that opens the tune sounds like “Glory to God,” or “Lift up your heads” from Handel’s “Messiah”. Also, the last four measures used in the tune sound like some part of “Comfort ye my people”. Lowell Mason was said to named this tune Antioch.That was the city in Syria refered to in the New Testament where deciples of Christ were called Christians (Acts 11:26) for the first time.


Listen to Joy To The World Hymn Mp3 Below:

Joy To The World – Courtesy: The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra

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