Joy to the World, the Lord has Come!
Just over a quarter-century after German-born, Italian-educated artist Johann Heinrich Schönfeld completed his inspiring Adoration of the Holy Trinity (c. 1649), future hymn-writer and Renaissance man Isaac Watts was born in Southampton, England. Both men lived with their eyes fixed on heaven, like most of the subjects in Schönfeld’s painting, and both have been used by God to enable similar devotion in every generation of the church since their day.
Little else is known of Schönfeld beyond his considerable body of work, but much of his religious art would suggest that Adorationis a window into his worshiping soul.
By contrast, much is known of Watts. At the tender age of eighteen, for instance, young Isaac was already lamenting the poor quality of the hymnody available for worship in the Church of England. So his father, a Deacon, challenged him to produce something better. And he did. His first effort was completed before the evening worship gathering that very same day!
By the end of his life he had written more that 600 hymns, including a hymnal titled Psalms of David. His intention in this Volume was to express all of the Psalms (minus twelve, which he did not believe were intended for such a purpose) in light of New Testament truth.
Joy To the World was inspired by Psalm 98. Derek Kidner (TOTC 352) observed that this psalm “is wholly given up to praise.” Unlike other psalms in its immediate vicinity, “here there are no comparisons with the heathen, no instructions in right worship: all is joy and exhilaration.”
Psalm 98 unfolds in three parts (spotlighting God’s kingship past, present, and future) easily identified by calls to “sing” (1), shout (4, “make a joyful noise”), and “roar” (7). It opens with His image-bearing creatures from “all the ends of the earth” being called to worship the Lord for His “marvelous… salvation” (explicitly mentioned in each of the first three verses), and closes with all creation worshiping Him for His just judgments—for exercising His kingly duties with “righteousness… and equity.”
All of this eruption of praise presses Watts to affirm, “Joy to the world! The Lord is come! Let earth receive her King! Let every heart prepare Him room! Let heaven and nature sing!” He gives voice to an assertion of a great hope: “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!” And more! “He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love!”
Like the inhabitants of Schönfeld’s Adoration, Watts uses Psalm 98 to help us poor and needy subjects of the King of kings and Lord of lords lift our eyes above this sin-shattered world and fix them on the glorious, triune God of all creation, the Lord of our salvation, our soon-returning King, in all the greatness of His saving grace and matchless glory!
"Joy to the World" - John Rutter