A Hymn for All Seasons

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ahfasthumbI love Isaac Watts’ hymn, “Joy to the World.” It is a song of great victory, which exalts the present rule and reign of the Lord Jesus Christ. Consider just one snippet: “He comes to make His blessings flow / far as the curse is found.” Since the curse is found in every part of the planet, Watts was claiming that the redemptive blessings of Jesus are to be found everywhere on earth.

We know from passages like Romans 8:18-30 that one day the curse on earth will be completely lifted as Jesus Christ wraps up history at His final coming to earth. According to 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 the Lord Jesus is right now extending His kingdom. When this is complete, He will return to Earth, offer up the glorified kingdom to His Father, and the eternal state will commence. By definition, this eternally glorious state will never end. We also know from other Scriptures that, throughout eternity, the redeemed from every people group will serve, worship and praise the triune God (see Revelation 5:8-10; 7:9-10). In other words, the blessings of the gospel of our glorious God will “flow as far as the curse is found.”

This is neither a pipe-dream nor the mere sentimental musings of poet writing a romanticised Christmas hymn. Rather, it is the truth-filled fruit of a man who knew his Bible and who therefore had a soundly exalted view of his sovereign Saviour. Watts was a believer who knew God. This is clearly reflected in this hymn. He saw that the incarnation of Jesus Christ—God in the flesh—was the basis for the otherwise impossible to occur.

In speaking of the Incarnation J. I. Packer observed, “It is no wonder that thoughtful people find the gospel of Jesus Christ hard to believe, for the realities with which it deals pass man’s understanding. But it is sad that so many make faith harder than it needs to be, by finding difficulties in the wrong places.” He then highlights some of these areas where people find it difficult to believe, such as the atonement (one dying in the place of another to atone for sins), the resurrection of Jesus Christ, His virgin birth, and His many miracles. He writes,

But in fact the real difficult , because the supreme mystery with which the gospel confronts us, does not lie here at all. It lies, not in the Good Friday message of atonement, nor in the Easter message of resurrection, but in the Christmas message of incarnation. The really staggering Christian claim is that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man…Once we grant that Jesus was divine, it becomes unreasonable to find difficulty in any of [these other miracles]; it is all of a piece, and hangs together completely. The incarnation is in itself an unfathomable mystery, but it makes sense of everything else that the New Testament contains.[1. J. I. Packer, Knowing God (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1973), 45-47).

“Everything else” includes His present victorious rule and reign.

We tend to sing hymns about the incarnation only at Christmastime. That is a mistake, for apart from the incarnation everything else connected with Jesus—including what He is doing from heaven on earth today—simply falls away. As the Second Man, the one from heaven (1 Corinthians 15:47), the Lord Jesus Christ is reconciling the world to God (2 Corinthians 5:17-19). He is doing so because He became a curse for those who believe in Him (Galatians 3:13). As the glorified and exalted Last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45) the Lord Jesus is reclaiming the world under the dominion of God. By His redemptive work He is making His blessings flow as far as the curse is found.

We serve a risen Saviour who is working in our world today. If you find it hard to believe that His gospel will conquer the nations, if you find it hard to believe that His kingdom will be extended in space-and-time history, then take a moment to reflect upon the incarnation. If God would, could and did become man, then with Isaac Watts we can confidently sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come!” That is truly a hymn for all seasons!

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