Words: Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
Music: George Frederick Handel (1685-1759) Dr. Lowell Mason (1792-1872)
Joy to the world! The Lord is come. Let earth receive her King Let every heart Prepare Him room And Saints and angels sing And Saints and angels sing And Saints and Saints and angels sing Joy to the world, the Saviour reigns Let Saints their songs employ While fields and floods rocks, hills and plains Repeat the sounding joy Repeat the sounding joy Repeat, Repeat, the sounding joy Joy to the world with truth and grace And makes the nations prove The glories of His righteousness And wonders of His love And wonders of His love And wonders and wonders of His love No more will sin and sorrow grow, Nor thorns infest the ground; He'll come and make the blessings flow Far as the curse was found, Far as the curse was found, Far as, far as the curse was found. He rules the world with truth and grace, And gives to nations proof The glories of His righteousness, And wonders of His love; And wonders of His love; And wonders, wonders of His love. Rejoice! Rejoice in the Most High, While Israel spreads abroad Like stars that glitter in the sky, And ever worship God, And ever worship God, And ever, and ever worship God.
Dramatic changes occurred in the 18th century in the way hymns were written and sung, largely due to the ideas and achievements of Isaac Watts. Born in Southampton, England, the son of a church deacon, and eldest of nine children, Isaac wrote his first poem when he was seven. In the seventy years that followed, he wrote some of the most beautiful hymns in the English language. Very early in life, Isaac had a passion for hymn singing. His father was imprisoned twice for his religious views, and Isaac's mother used to carry him in her arms as she stood at the prison gate, singing hymns to cheer her husband who was inside. At an early age, Isaac learned to play the piano, and, to the delight of his parents, often composed little songs. While still a young boy, Isaac noticed the lack of enthusiasm in congregational singing at their church, and questioned the quality of the songs. Around this time, in the late 1600s, congregational church singing was led by a song leader (called a "clerk") who stood up, faced the audience, and selected a Psalm to be sung. Only Psalms were sung in the church, as it was considered sacrilege to use any other writings from the Bible or otherwise for the lyrics of religions songs. The clerk would say or sing one line of the Psalm, and the people, in turn, would repeat what had been said or sung by the clerk. This method was called "lining-out." Isaac's father challenged him to write new hymns for the people to sing. So Isaac, at about the age of fifteen, composed his first hymn, and it received an enthusiastic response. Soon afterward he produced several others that were readily accepted by his father's congregation. The people enjoyed singing Watts' hymns. Watts intended his hymns to be sung as complete stanzas, rather than as disconnected lines. He urged congregations to sing Psalms and hymns as they do today, one line immediately after the other. Also, he felt that Christian congregational singing should not be confined to Psalms, but that it should include freely composed hymns on Biblical subjects. In Isaac Watts' day, these were very radical changes! Isaac continued with his studies, and in 1702, after his ordination as a minister of the Gospel, he became pastor of a church in London, which he served for the rest of his life. Isaac Watts was a brilliant educator (the textbooks he wrote were used for more than 100 years), a notable poet, and the best known of all London ministers in his day. Declining health compelled Watts to resign his pulpit, and he accepted the position from the Lord Mayor of London - Sir Thomas and Lady Abney - of tutoring their children. Sir Thomas made Watts the private chaplain of his household, and Watts was held in great esteem by the Abneys, who considered it an honor to have him in their home. Watt's talents and leadership helped raise the standards of both the lyrics and the music of hymns, for which he has been rightly called by some, "the father and liberator of the English hymn." More than four hundred of his hymns are in common use in English-speaking countries today, the two most famous of which are "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" and "Joy to the World." One of Watts' music projects was a volume of hymns based upon the Psalms of David. In preparing this volume, Watts read into Psalm 98 all the joy of the coming of the Messiah. Basing his hymn principally on verses 4, 6, 8 and 9, he wrote his finest Christmas hymn, beginning with the lines: "Joy to the world, The Lord is come, Let Earth receive her King! Let every heart Prepare Him room, And Heav'n and nature sing. Even 70 years after this milestone publication of Watts', there were still some Christians who believed that God stopped singing when David the Psalmist died, and that for believers to sing anything other than the metrical versions of the Old Testament Psalms was heresy of the worst sort. They despised the works of hymn revolutionists Watts and Charles Wesley, saying they were of "human composition." Yet battles have been fought and victories won by Christians singing these great hymns of faith. At first, "Joy to the World" was sung to music composed by Dr. Hodges (and his tune is still used at times). But later Dr. Lowell Mason set it to a musical theme from "The Messiah" by George Frederick Handel, making "Joy to the World" one of the most joyous Christmas hymns.