Watts wrote joyful Christmas carol in response to challenge

Published 2:04 am Saturday, December 9, 2017

Isaac Watts…his name may not be familiar to many people, but we still sing the hymns he wrote more 300 years ago.

Born in 1674, young Isaac was learning Latin by age five, followed by Greek at age nine, French at age eleven and Hebrew at age 13. He was not only a literary genius, but historians also describe him as an ardent student of theology and philosophy.

One Sunday in 1692, 18-year-old Isaac Watts returned home from a church service and told his father how he disliked the congregational singing. He thought the lyrics of the hymns did little to encourage worship.

His father responded, “Well then, young man, why don’t you give us something better to sing?” By the next Sunday, Isaac had written his first hymn and for the next two years he wrote a new hymn text for every Sunday.

We can be thankful Isaac took his dad’s challenge, for the son wrote approximately 600 hymns throughout his lifetime. Three centuries later, we can open our hymnals and sing “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” and other inspiring Watts -written hymns of worship during our church services.

Isaac Watts also wrote a collection of hymns paraphrasing a verse from almost all of the 150 Psalms. For instance, Psalm 98, described as a psalm of rejoicing at the marvelous ways God has protected His people, also looks forward to the time when He will rule the whole earth.

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord….Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together….for he cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world,” (Psalm 98:3, 8 – 9).

From this Scripture, Isaac Watts composed a hymn of praise for our salvation that began when God became a babe in Bethlehem. It tells how our Lord removed the curse of sin by dying for us and encourages every heart to receive Him.

George Frederick Handel is generally credited as the source of the hymn’s music. Both men lived in London during this time period and evidence suggests they knew each other. Historians describe Isaac Watts as a frail, five-foot-tall, rather homely, but gentle-mannered man. Watts, who died in 1748, is also considered one of the greatest preachers of all time.

In 1836, an American choir director, composer and teacher Lowell Mason adapted the music from Handel’s Messiah to better fit the words of Watt’s hymn. It remains a popular Christmas carol This timeless hymn’s message reminds us of the reason for this joyful season.

“Joy to the world! The Lord is come; Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room, And Heav’n and nature sing, And Heav’n and nature sing, And Heav’n, and Heav’n and nature sing.”

It’s been said, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.” May you experience joy at Christmas and every day of the year!

Jan White is an national award-winning religion columnist. She can be reached at jwhite@andycable.com.