Scott Aniol: Which Advent of Christ Does ‘Joy to the World’ Refer To?

We are in the midst of a wonderful time in the year when we can reflect upon the advent of our Lord and the redemption that comes through faith in him. One of the most enjoyable ways to do this is through the singing of classic Advent and Christmas hymns. Songs like “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” and “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” remind us of Christ’s incarnation and anticipate His soon coming again.

One of the most popular Advent/Christmas hymns, even among unbelievers, is “Joy to the World,” written by British pastor Isaac Watts (1674-1748). You can’t walk in many malls or eat at many restaurants during the month of December without hearing this song.

One of the interesting questions raised about this hymn, however, is whether it refers to the first or second advent of Christ. Read the hymn and consider which advent you think the hymn refers to:

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 world! the Saviour reigns; Let men their songs employ; While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains Repeat the sounding joy.

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.

He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove The glories of His righteousness, And wonders of His love.

I wrote an article that was published in the Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal in 2011 where I address Isaac Watts’s hermeneutic and eschatology, which gave me an opportunity to explore which advent is in view in the hymn.

First a little context. Watts published this hymn in a collection he called, The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament and Applied to the Christian State and Worship. As the title indicates, Watts published this collection as his attempt to “Christianize” the Psalms so that Christians could sing them with the full revelation of Jesus Christ in view.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Scott Aniol