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Posts Tagged ‘Isaac Watts’

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Isaac closed his eyes for a moment and pondered the scripture he had just read:

 

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord,

all the earth:

Make a loud noise,

And rejoice, and sing praise.”

–Psalm 98:4 KJV

 

A poem began to take shape in his mind, and he picked up his quill to write.

Poetry came as naturally to Isaac Watts as regular conversation to others. Ever since he was a boy he’d taken great pleasure in rhyme and rhythm.

He also appreciated a heart-stirring tune, which is why, as a young man, he found the chanted church music of the day uninspiring and ponderous. At the urging of his father (also a nonconformist), young Isaac set out to write new hymns. In fact, he may have been among the first composers of contemporary Christian music—contemporary for the late 1600s, that is.

As could be expected, his first songs were rejected by some as unworthy for congregational singing. They even called Isaac a heretic because his lyrics were not direct quotes from scripture.  Despite the critics, however, his first volume of Hymns and Spiritual Songs was published in 1707.

 

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Even today, some of his hymn-titles are familiar, including: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “We’re Marching to Zion,” and “At the Cross.” In all, Isaac Watts wrote more than six hundred hymns.

In 1716 Isaac was hired as an assistant to the minister of Mark Lane Independent Chapel in London, and less than three years later, became the minister. He worked tirelessly and creatively; the congregation grew.

 

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It was one day during that same year of 1719 Isaac chose to meditate on Psalm 98 and was particularly inspired by verse four (quoted above).

Perhaps Isaac pondered the “joyful noise” all the earth would make—if fields, hills, rocks, and plains joined mankind in praise of the Lord, the King. And the words began to flow:

 

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“Joy to the world! The Lord is come!

Let earth receive her King:

Let every heart prepare Him room.

And heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the earth! The Savior reigns!

Let men their songs employ;

While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains

Repeat the sounding joy.

 

The four-stanza poem was published in 1719—without benefit of tune.

More than one hundred years later in Boston, Massachusetts, Christian composer, Lowell Mason, was inspired to write an upbeat melody he titled, “Antioch.”

 

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This tune needs to be sung, he thought. But finding lyrics with the correct rhythm and a suitable theme proved difficult. Not until three years later, in 1839, did Mason come across the perfect lyrics in Isaac Watt’s Modern Psalmist: “Joy to the World.”

Sing through the hymn and you’ll find no mention of Jesus’ birth—nothing about Mary, Joseph or Bethlehem, nothing about angels, shepherds, or wise men. So how did it become a traditional Christmas carol?

Perhaps pastors and music ministers began choosing the song because it celebrated the impact of Jesus’ birth—the advent of his Spirit to all who believe, and the final advent when Jesus will return to earth and begin his reign as King of kings.

When we sing this well-loved carol, we’re celebrating:

  • The past. “The Lord is come” (stanza one). Two thousand years ago Almighty God became flesh and lived among humanity, to win our hearts and transform our lives.

 

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  • The present. “The Savior reigns” within those of us who make room for him, filling our spirits with the joy of his presence (stanza two).

 

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  • The future. The day is coming when sin and sorrow will cease, God’s blessings will flow forever (stanza three), and he will “rule the world with truth and grace” (stanza four).

 

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The “wonders of his love” (also from stanza four) include all these truths and more.

 

So…

 

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“Shout your praises to God, everybody!

Let loose and sing!”

–Psalm 98:4, MSG

 

JOY TO THE WORLD!

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.pinterest; http://www.yourworshiptools.com; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.pinterest; http://www.wikipedia.org (2); http://www.pinterest.com (2); http://www.tumbr.com.)

 

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