Isaac Watts wrote a book on logic and 750 hymns, including “Joy to the World.” That’s my kind of person! Lucid logic for seeing truth, and a living soul for feeling it and singing it. This is what we were created to be.
Watts wrote “Joy to the World” as Part Two of a meditation on Psalm 98. His title was: “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom.” Most agree he was writing about the second coming of Christ, not Christmas.
But it’s not that simple.
Past, Present, and Future
To be sure, Psalm 98:8–9 says, “Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the Lᴏʀᴅ, for he comes to judge the earth.” He is coming to judge. This corresponds to Watt’s “While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains, / Repeat the sounding joy.”
But there’s more. The song is indeed about the Christmas coming — and the present reigning, and the final future coming to renovate the world.
“Joy to the world! The Lord is come!”
We don’t usually say, “is come.” We say “has come.” So there it is: Christmas. He has come.
“Joy to the earth! The Savior reigns!”
Now. He reigns now because he came at Christmas, lived, died, rose, and was exalted to the right hand of the Father as Savior and King.
“He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.”
He reigns, but not merely at a distance. He comes now. He is turning back the effects of the curse now. Once we were under wrath (John 3:36), now we are not under wrath. No condemnation (Romans 8:1). Miraculous healings and medical advances are marvelous works of Christ pushing back the physical effects of the fall in places where they once held complete sway.
“He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness
And wonders of his love.”
Here is what the reigning Savior does now. He rules. He compels (makes). The second three lines unpack the first. “Righteousness” and “love” correspond to “truth” and “grace.” He rules with truth and grace. And he compels the nations to come to terms with the truth and rightness of all he does, and the ever-present, ever-offered, ever-wonderful grace and love.
An Exhortation for Everyone
What does “prove” mean? He makes the nations “prove” his glories and wonders. To prove something is to test it and see if it is reliable — as in “proving ground.” The king will not be ignored. He will compel attention. All men will prove him. They will judge him to be reliable or not. Sooner or later all the nations will face his grace and righteousness, either with faith and joy, or with rejection and misery.
Besides these four statements about the coming and reign of Christ (“is come,” “reigns,” “makes blessings flow,” “makes nations prove”), the song exhorts. It exhorts us and it exhorts nature.
Us: “Receive your King!” “Prepare him room!” “Employ your songs!” “Don’t let sins grow!”
Nature: “Heaven and nature, sing!” “You fields and floods and rocks and hills and plains, repeat the joy!” “You thorns, no longer infest the ground!”
So Get with the Program
This is not mere teaching and application. This is exultation. The logician has seen with lucid precision the glories of truth and righteousness and grace and love and kingly power. Now he is brimming with exclamation, exultation. The logic is on fire.
Jesus is King! Jesus is Savior! Jesus has conquered the curse! Jesus rules the nations! Ride on, King Jesus!
And, world, get with the program! Joy! Joy! Joy! Sing! Sin no more! Prove him! He is righteous. He is true. He is gracious. He is loving. He is coming.