Isaac Watts is known for writing hymns such as “Alas! And Did My Saviour Bleed?” and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” But he is best known for writing a hymn sung worldwide at Christmas time, “Joy to The World!”
This song is really an explanation of the gospel. The anticipated King in verse one is celebrated for His rule and reign in verse two, viewed as the Saviour of this sin-filled world in the third verse, and is proclaimed as the One who “rules the world with truth and grace.” These words echo John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Life is often unfair or unjust, but what a wonderful peace that flows from the reality that Jesus rules with truth and grace.
So, what are truth and grace? Truth and grace are really salvation. There is no salvation grace given except to those who believe the truth of the gospel. Paul reminded the Ephesians, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph.1:13). In Colossians 1:5, he defined the gospel as the “word of truth.” People are saved when they “come to the knowledge of the truth” (1Tim.2:4). On the other hand, those who perish will do so “because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thess.2:10). Jesus said in John 8:31-32, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
“Joy to the World” stems from Psalm 98, and verses two and three of the psalm foreshadow the gospel truth. “The Lord has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.” While not abandoning His chosen people, God offers salvation to all people. God’s love cannot be contained in a single nation or country. The wonders of his love spread throughout all nations, all people, and even through all creation.
When we sing “Joy to the World,” we’re not just celebrating the birth of our Saviour and King. We are also celebrating God’s victory over sin. We are really celebrating Him ruling the world with the truth and grace of the gospel found in John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” That is the grace of the gospel summarized: He would die for us so that we can live. What a blessing!
The truth of the gospel goes further yet to include His judgement. Without God’s love, there would only be fear of judgement, and without God’s judgement, there would be no meaning to His love. The Psalmist writes, “Let the rivers clap their hands: let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord, for He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity” (Psalm 98:8-9). The real reason for joy is that this King, Jesus Christ, who came as a baby, will one day judge the world with righteousness and that each of us will be treated with equity.
Life can be hard and often seem unfair, but God will judge with equity, righteousness, and love. Things will be made right. No one will be able to get away with anything because payment for what we’ve done will be exact. For the non-believer, there will be eternal punishment: torment day and night forever and ever in hell. For God’s people, there will be peace, and this peace is currently still available to all who seek him. “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7). May we seek Him today, while He may be found because there is coming a day when it will be too late.
Christ is the longed-for King. He now rules all things, and that is good. Yes, there is still sorrow and sin, but our King conquers the curse as far as it is found. And finally, because of His love for His Father, Christ’s sacrifice means that righteous judgment results in joy for his people. So, as we go through this Christmas season, may we remember that we are celebrating Christ for coming as a baby but also that He is Lord over all things and ruling the world with truth and grace. Nothing that happens here on earth catches Him by surprise, but He has allowed everything to happen for a reason. May we find comfort in that, knowing He is in full control. And may it bring joy to our world!