This popular hymn which appears is sung by many, especially at Christmas, was written by the so-called ‘Father of English Hymnody’, Isaac Watts.
Watts paraphrased the Book of Psalms into ‘New Testament’ language. As the title of the collection suggests, Watts did this because he wished for the Psalms to be read as if King David was a Christian. He published his collection which he called The Psalms of David: Imitated in the language of the New Testament, and applied to the Christian state and worship. The most famous paraphrase from this collection is Psalm 98, which became known as the hymn ‘Joy to the world, the Lord is come!’
Another well-known hymn from this collection is ‘O God our Help in Ages Past’, which is associated with the tune ST ANNE. This hymn is based on Psalm 90 (‘God is our hope and refuge’), and is sung at Remembrance Day services. It is also the school hymn of Watts’ old school King Edward VI in Southampton, United Kingdom.
The tune associated with Watts’ text is called ANTIOCH. This tune was arranged and published in 1836 by the American church musician and composer Lowell Mason (1792-1872), but its origins are uncertain. Many hymnbooks attributed the original tune Handel, and it is almost certain that the tune originated from England. Similar melodies appear in several collections such as William Holford’s Voce de Melodica or 1835. Whoever wrote the original, the text and tune of this hymn are synonymous with Christmas, when it is a popular choice as a carol.
The hymn’s popularity, its well-known lyrics, and lively tune means it is has been sung outside of churches and at carol concerts. Faith Hill, Mariah Carey, Boney M. and Whitney Houston all made cover versions of ‘Joy to the world’.