Joy to the World: A Christmas Hymn Reconsidered

| December 22, 2014


Isaac Watts was arguably the most prolific hymn writer of his day. He is known for writing such timeless hymns as “Behold the Glories of the Lamb”and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” However, Watts is best known for writing the hymn “Joy to the World”—a song played worldwide during Christmas every year.

While he is much appreciated today, during his lifetime Watts was considered by many to be a disturbance of the status quo and even possibly a heretic for the lyrics he wrote. While he wasn’t a heretic, he was a revolutionary.

Watts grew up in a world where the music in every worship service consisted only of psalms or sections of Scripture put to music. Watts found the practice monotonous. To him, there was a lack of joy and emotion among the congregants as they sang. He once famously said, “To see the dull indifference, the negligent and thoughtless air that sits upon the faces of a whole assembly, while the psalm is upon their lips, might even tempt a charitable observer to suspect the fervency of their inward religion.”

Hymnology Pioneer 

Watts’s father issued a challenge. He told Watts that if he struggled with the…


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