Quote of the Day: Joy to the World

Joy to the world!
Joy to the world! Oh, woah

Joy to the world, the Lord is come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing

Joy to the world!
Joy to the world!

Joy to the World

Origins of the Quote

The words of the hymn are by English minister and hymnist Isaac Watts, based on Psalm 98, 96:11–12 and Genesis 3:17–18. It was first published in 1719 in Watts’ collection The Psalms of David: in the language of the New Testament. Largely applying to the Christian state and worship. The paraphrase is Watts’ Christological interpretation.

Consequently, he does not emphasize with equal weight the various themes of Psalm 98. In first and second stanzas, Watts writes of heaven and earth rejoicing at the coming of the King. An interlude that depends more on Watts’ understanding than the psalm text. Stanza three speaks of Christ’s blessings extending victoriously over the realm of sin.

The cheerful repetition of the non-psalm phrase “far as the curse is found” has caused the stanza to be omitted from some hymnals. But the line makes joyful sense when understood from the New Testament eyes through which Watts interprets the psalm.

Further, stanza four celebrates Christ’s rule over the nations. The nations are called to celebrate because God’s faithfulness to the house of Israel has brought salvation to the world

The Person Behind the Words

Watts was born in Southampton, England in 1674. He grew up in the home of a committed religious nonconformist. His father too had been incarcerated twice for his views. Watts had a classical education at King Edward VI School, Southampton, learning Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.

The young man displayed a propensity for rhyme from an early age. He was once asked why he had his eyes open during prayers, to which he responded:

A little mouse for want of stairs

ran up a rope to say its prayers.

He received corporal punishment for this, to which he cried:

O father, father, pity take

And I will no more verses make.

Watts could not attend Oxford or Cambridge because he was a non-conformist and these universities were strictly Anglicans. (As were government positions at the time). He attended the Dissenting Academy at Stoke Newington in 1690. Much of the remainder of his life centered on that village, which is now part of Inner London.

Some Final Thoughts

Watts was responsible for introducing a new way of rendering the Psalms in verse for church services, proposing that they be adapted for hymns with a specifically Christian perspective. Later the title of his 1719 metrical Psalter, read  “imitated in the language of the New Testament.”  

Besides writing hymns, Isaac Watts was also a theologian and logician, writing books and essays on these subjects. He was a multidimensional man. Religious and academician at the same time.

Check out our Quote of the Day archive where we bring you quotes hand picked by me, Divvya Nirula. Sharing the stories, people, moments behind the inspiration and thought provoking words.