Sermons and Articles | Ken Puls
Joy to the World and Sing a New Song
In Psalm 98:1 we are commanded to "Sing to the LORD a new song." In every place and in every age as the gospel goes forth, we are to add our voice to the tapestry of God's praise. In the early 1700s in England that task fell in part to a young man named Isaac Watts. God used Watts to significantly impact the church music of his day.
Isaac Watts began writing poetry as a boy. When he was about 5 years old, his mom was cleaning the house and found several poems he had written. They were so good she did not believe that he had actually written them. He went to his room and made up a poem based on acrostic of his own name to prove to her that he was indeed the author.
As a teenager Watts became concerned with the poor state of music in the church. Most of the singing in his day was of unaccompanied metrical psalms. The intent and content were good—they wanted to honor God and they were singing the Word of God, but unfortunately, the quality of the music and practice of singing in many places was very poor.
Isaac Watts heard the music of his day, and as one who loved and wrote poetry, he realized that many of the attempts to fit words to meter were poor and unsingable. He also took exception with those who claimed that the church should only sing the words of the 150 psalms in the book of Psalms. Watts was not opposed to singing psalms, but he believed that if we are going to sing them, we ought to sing them well and we ought to sing them in light of the gospel with new words that clearly show how they speak of Christ.
On one particular evening, while coming home from church, young Isaac was disparaging the music he had heard that day. His dad became frustrated with him, turned around and challenged him—if you don't approve of what we sing, why don't you write something better?
Watts did exactly that, and in the course of life to follow composed over 600 hymns and became known in years to come as the father of English hymnody. Watts published his first collection of hymns in 1707, called Hymns and Spiritual Songs. It was received so well that by 1709 he followed with a second edition.
His success was not without criticism, however. He was accused by many of abandoning psalm singing. He answered his critics with a collection in 1719 called: The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament.
It included a setting of Psalm 98. Watts wanted people to see and hear and understand Christ in this psalm. He had two main concerns in the hymns he composed:
And so he read verses 4-6:
And then he composed:
He read verses 7 and 8:
He responded with:
He read verses 1Ð3:
And he wrote:
He read verse 9:
And he concluded his setting with:
©2007 Ken Puls