PODCAST: Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee (History Behind the Hymns #16 with Daniel Whyte III)

Welcome to the History Behind the Hymns podcast. This is episode #16

I am your host, Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International. I am one of many Christians who still loves the old hymns of the faith even more than many modern Christian songs. For the past 33 years, my wife and children and I have sung the old hymns during our family devotion time. Over the years we have used an Independent Baptist hymn book, a National Baptist hymn book, and a Southern Baptist hymn book to sing the old hymns of the faith. And we have sung the old hymns of the faith with traditional Methodist churches online. The old hymns of the faith have been a tremendous source of blessing and encouragement to my heart down through the years. The purpose of this podcast is to encourage you to dust off your old hymn book and experience the power and blessing of well-written hymns based upon sound doctrine for the glory of God that will strengthen your faith.

The History Behind the Hymns passage of Scripture is Psalm 100 which reads: “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing. Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.”

The History Behind the Hymns quote for today is from Fanny Crosby. She said: “It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me.”

The quote in connection to today’s hymn is from Joyce Meyer. She said: “When you focus on how wonderful God is and all the great things He’s done… is doing… and even will do in your life, your natural response will be praise, adoration and awe. Don’t let yourself ever get used to it… stay amazed!”

Our hymn for today is “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” by Henry Van Dyke. It reads:

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,
God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flow’rs before Thee,
Op’ning to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
Drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day!

All Thy works with joy surround Thee,
Earth and heav’n reflect Thy rays,
Stars and angels sing around Thee,
Center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain,
Flow’ry meadow, flashing sea,
Singing bird and flowing fountain
Call us to rejoice in Thee.

Thou art giving and forgiving,
Ever blessing, ever blest,
Wellspring of the joy of living,
Ocean depth of happy rest!
Thou our Father, Christ our Brother,
All who live in love are Thine;
Teach us how to love each other,
Lift us to the joy divine.

Mortals, join the happy chorus,
Which the morning stars began;
Father love is reigning o’er us,
Brother love binds man to man.
Ever singing, march we onward,
Victors in the midst of strife,
Joyful music leads us Sunward
In the triumph song of life.

Now here is the history behind the hymn, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee”. According to Umcdiscipleship.org:

This joyful ode is one of the best-known hymns in the English language. Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933) was inspired in 1907 by the beauty of the Berkshire mountains where he was serving as a guest preacher at Williams College, Williamstown, Mass.

It has been said that Van Dyke handed the poem to the president of the college, saying: “Here is a hymn for you. Your mountains were my inspiration. It must be sung to the music of Beethoven’s ‘Hymn to Joy.’” The hymn appeared in the 3rd edition of Van Dyke’s Book of Poems.

While this story may be true, Methodist hymnologist Fred Gealy commented on this hymn from a different perspective (as cited by UM Hymnal editor Carlton Young):

“Van Dyke countered [the doom prior to World War I] by speaking a gay cheery all’s-right-with-the-world note which was in complete harmony with the widely held belief in an easy if not inevitable progress. . . . The daintiness of phrase and the lilt of rhythm suggest Elysium or Eden before the Fall.”

The adaptation of Ludwig van Beethoven’s stirring melody from the final movement of his Ninth Symphony is the perfect companion to this exuberant text. Beethoven never wrote a hymn tune, per se, though a number of texts have been adapted to this melody. Van Dyke’s is by far the most closely associated hymn text with this tune.

The metaphor of light, the antithesis of darkness—a common theme in Romantic poetry—provides the overarching vehicle for expressing joy in stanza one. “Flowers . . . [open] to the sun above.” “Clouds of sin and sadness” disperse. “Dark and doubt” are driven away. The final line of stanza one petitions the “Giver of immortal gladness” to “fill us with the light of day.”

The second stanza paints a vivid picture of God manifest in the beauty of nature, also a common theme of the Romantic era. The third stanza extends to the human creation and the brotherhood of humanity. Since God is the Father of humanity, Christ is our brother.

The belief that ultimately humanity is progressing culminates in the final stanza, “Ever singing, march we onward,/ Victors in the midst of strife.”

Beethoven’s “joyful music” was adapted by British composer Edward Hodges. The United Methodist Hymnal restores Beethoven’s original syncopation that begins the final line of each stanza.

Dr. Young comments on this bold move with a combination of humor and irony: “Its restoration in our hymnal has spawned complaints from those for whom congregational song is devoid of surprises—and resurrection!”

Van Dyke was a Presbyterian minister. Most of his career was spent as a professor of English literature at Princeton University. He also served in civil posts, including his appointment to the Netherlands and Luxembourg by Woodrow Wilson, a personal friend, and was a lieutenant-commander in the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps during World War I. Van Dyke wrote some 25 books and chaired the committee that in 1905 prepared the Book of Common Worship for the Presbyterian Church.

Given Van Dyke’s experience in Europe and service as a military chaplain, it is unlikely that this famous hymn, written during the bleak days before the World War I, was composed with a Pollyanna worldview of denial. Rather this poem, composed by a minister and English professor, reflects the Romantic poetic themes of its day while imbued with a Christian sense of ultimate hope.

In our next episode we will look at the history behind the hymn, “Spirit of the Living God” by Daniel Iverson.

Let’s Pray —

Dear friend, this hymn honors God and the Lord Jesus Christ, if you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, and you want to get to know Him today here’s how.

First, accept the fact that you are a sinner, and that you have broken God’s law. The Bible says in Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

Second, accept the fact that there is a penalty for sin. The Bible states in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death…”

Third, accept the fact that you are on the road to hell. Jesus Christ said in Matthew 10:28: Also, the Bible states in Revelation 21:8: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

Now this is bad news, but here’s the good news. Jesus Christ said in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can live eternally with Him. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will.

Romans 10:9-13 says, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Pray and ask Him to come into your heart and He will.

May God bless you and keep you until we meet again.