180 Years Ago: Joy To The World, The Lord Will Come!

Each month, I feature an extended summary of an article, story, or document of interest that was published 180 years ago that same month in a Mormon periodical.  Last month’s entry, representing November 1832, is found here: 180 Years Ago: The Shepherd of Israel and the Tribe of Joseph. 

The following Millennial Hymn is found at the very end of the issue, Volume 1, issue  7 of The Evening and the Morning Star, in a little unassuming box immediately preceding the last bits of eratta and publication information, presented almost as if it were an afterthought:


This hymn is W. W. Phelps’ revision of Isaac Watts’ original classic “Joy To The World”. Originally rejoicing in the Second Coming of the Lord rather than the now-traditional association with the Nativity, Phelps’ revisions make this hymn even more explicitly millennial, and relevant to the Latter-day Saint community. With the odd exception of a reversion of the first two lines of the first verse to Watts’ original, Phelps’ revision has remained the de-facto version found in the official Hymnbook, and sung and known by modern Latter-day Saints.

Because it may be helpful to keep in mind the differences for Latter-day Saints planning on joining in interfaith caroling (or vice versa!),  a comparison of the two versions of the song is presented below:

Joy to the World”, by Isaac Watts The Second Coming of the Savior”, revised by W. W. Phelps
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing.
Joy to the world! the Lord will come!
And earth receive her King;
Let ev’ry heart prepare him room,
And saints and angels sing.
Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.
Rejoice! rejoice! when Jesus reigns!
And saints their songs employ:
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains,
Repeat the sounding joy.
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.
No more will sin and sorrow grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He’ll come and make the blessings flow
Far as the curse was found.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.
Rejoice! rejoice! in the Most High,
While Israel spread abroad,
Like stars that glitter in the sky,
And ever worship God.

Just for fun, here’s the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing the Traditional Version, which it generally does when presenting for a broader audience:

And here they are singing the W. W. Phelps Latter-day Saint version:


180 Years Ago: Joy To The World, The Lord Will Come! — 12 Comments

  1. Fascinating and very seasonally appropriate, David! 🙂

    Phelps’s revisions are interesting because they seem to reflect a somewhat overzealous application of Mormon theological sensibilities.

    Technically I don’t think there’s anything preventing Latter-day Saints from using Watts’s version, since the Saints do believe in the first advent of Jesus and the present rule of God over creation.

    However, Phelps appears to have been concerned that Watt’s poem reflected a realized eschatology. In Phelps’s version, Jesus doesn’t yet truly reign over the world, except perhaps in a limited sense. The world is awry and apostate, and the nations decidedly do not prove God’s glory or righteousness, as in the last stanza of Watts’s version. Phelps’s erasure of this stanza wipes out any hint of Calvinist providentialism, erases any whiff of affirmation that the present world may be the way God intended it to be. The age of meticulous providential governance of the earth, in Phelps’s view, is still to come.

  2. Thanks, Chris. And great analysis. Even though I’ve been LDS for nearly 9 years now, I still have to make special effort to make sure I remember to sing ‘saints and angels’ when singing with other Latter-day Saints!

    Phelps, in much of his writing, due to his role as editor of the only official and authorized publication of the Church, appears to have taken it upon himself to be the one to clear up and resolve what he saw as misunderstandings with the general world’s eschatological view. It’s fun to see Phelps’ interests, concerns, and perspectives chronologically play out side by side with those of Rigdon.

  3. Fascinating post. I looked on the online LDS hymnal. Joy to the World is attributed to Phelps, but is the first hymn in the Christmas section of hymns. It appears that the church wants to keep this as a Christmas carol (first verse following Wesley), but also wants to keep Phelps’ escatologocal meaning in the second verse. That makes the most sense of the textual changes. Any thoughts?

  4. I think by Wesley you mean Watts? And that’s right – it’s the first two lines of the first verse that were reverted. I’m actually interested as to when the reversion first took place, whether it was early, or relatively late – anyone particularly familiar with LDS hymnody there to shed some light?

  5. The 1948 hymnal had “Joy to the world! the Lord will come!
    And earth receive her King”.

    So, the change back to “is come” came in 1985.

  6. I just checked the Russian edition that came out in 2005 (just in time for my mission), the tense in the first verse is closer to Phelps’ version than the 1985 revision.

    “Earth, rejoice, the Lord is coming!” and, “Welcome soon the King of Kings…”

  7. What’s interesting about Phelps’ millenialist version is that it captures the spirit of Advent: the preparation for Christ’s coming, both the first and last.