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Professor Howdy said...

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Professor Howdy said...

Joy to the World
Alison Thomas

When Isaac Watts was a teenager in late-seventeenth century England, he did
not care for the type of songs being sung in churches at the time. It is
said that one Sunday after returning from a service and expressing much
dissatisfaction, his father replied: "Well then, young man, why don't you
give us something better to sing?"(1) Watts, then eighteen years old,
accepted his father's challenge. The next Sunday he produced his first
hymn, and for the next two years, young Watts wrote a new hymn text for
his church every Sunday. When threatened with a whipping for annoying his
family by constantly speaking only in rhyme, legend holds that he cried
out, "O father, do some pity take/ And I will no more verses make."

Fortunately for us, Watts did not forever keep this promise. His love for
rhyme and the truth of Christ eventually led him to become known as the
"Father of English Hymnody." Over two and half centuries later, our
hymnals still contain some of Watt's best, and are beloved by many.

In my opinion, Watt's hymn "Joy to the World" is one of the most uplifting
hymns in existence, capturing the spirit of what Christ's birth means to
humanity. The song appeared in his well-known hymnal of 1719, Psalms
of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament. Watts
intended this collection to give the Psalms a New Testament meaning and
style. The hymn is a paraphrase of the last half of Psalm 98:

"Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth; make a loud
noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. Let the floods clap their hands; let
the hills be joyful together before the Lord; for He cometh to judge the
earth; with righteousness shall He judge the world, and the people with
equity."

Both Psalm 98 and "Joy to the World" are songs of rejoicing at the
incredible ways in which God is active in the world restoring his people
to himself. Psalm 98 looks forward in anticipation to Christ's coming,
bringing justice on earth through judgment and mercy. This prompts the
psalmist to urge everyone to shout for joy together, including the waters
and hills of nature. Watts begins his hymn with this promise fulfilled:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

God continues to rule the world today with truth and grace. Amidst the
busyness of the holidays, Watts reminds us that we have much to slow down
and joyously take in. We behold in our midst a savior who "comes to make
His blessings flow, far as the curse is found." Let us take a moment to
savor the wonders of his love all around us and repeat the sounding joy of
his birth. The Lord is come!


Alison Thomas is an itinerant apologist with Ravi Zacharias
International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.


(1) K.W. Osbeck, 101 More Hymn Stories, (Grand Rapids: Kregel
Publications, 1985), 52.

Dr. Albert Mohler said...

"One Word of Truth Will Outweigh the Whole World" -- The Death of Alexander
Solzhenitsyn
Posted: Monday, August 04, 2008 at 4:32 am ET

"One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world." Alexander Solzhenitsyn
cited that Russian proverb in his 1970 acceptance speech as he was awarded
the Nobel Prize for literature. He did not deliver that speech in person,
for he knew that if he left the Soviet Union he would never be allowed to
return. Even after he was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1974, his great
wish and absolute determination was to die in Russia, the land and people of
his birth.

Solzhenitsyn died in Moscow on Sunday, ending a life of 89 years -- one of
the monumental lives of the twentieth century.

Few writers have exerted so great an influence on contemporary events. David
Remnick of The New Yorker described Solzhenitsyn as "the dominant writer of
the 20th century." As he explained, "Who else compares?"

He was born in 1918, the very year following the Soviet Revolution. That
same year the Communist Party began to create an extensive system of
political prisons and concentration camps known as "gulags." Solzhenitsyn
would bring the reality of Soviet oppression to the world's attention
through his writings, including a 300,000-word history of the camps,
published as The Gulag Archipelago. As author Joseph Pearce reflected, "Thus
it was that Alexander Solzhenitsyn and the Gulag Archipelago were born
within weeks of each other, children of the same revolution."

Solzhenitsyn knew the Gulag Archipelago from first hand experience. He had
been sent to the prison camp system after service as a Captain in the Soviet
Army during World War II. In 1945 the Soviet spy system uncovered a letter
in which Solzhenitsyn had criticized "the man with a moustache" -- Soviet
dictator Joseph Stalin. He served eight years in the system, and those years
of political, physical, and spiritual oppression became the foundation for
Solzhenitsyn's great literary and historical achievement.

A term spent in one of the most brutal prisons became the basis for his
short novel. A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Solzhenitsyn revealed
not only the physical deprivation and spiritual degradation that marked the
camps, but the coldly calculated methods by which the Soviet authorities
sought to break the spirits of the prisoners.

Solzhenitsyn was released from the gulag system the very day of Stalin's
death. He then became a teacher and used his time to write the books that
would change the world. Some of these works had actually been written in
prison, though Solzhenitsyn was forced to memorize his composed passages
until he could write them down only after his release from the gulags.

Stalin's successor as dictator and First Secretary of the Communist Party of
the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, led a process known as
"De-Stalinization" that provided a temporary opening in Soviet culture.
Khrushchev wanted Stalin's murderous abuses to come to light and, when
Solzhenitsyn's novella A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich came to his
attention, he led the Soviet Presidium to allow its publication in an
official literary journal. Other works by Solzhenitsyn then followed in
print.

He quickly became an international literary sensation, compared to great
Russian authors such as Dostoyevsky, Chekov, and Tolstoy. Writing in The
New York Times, Michael T. Kaufman remarked, "Mr. Solzhenitsyn had been an
obscure, middle-aged, unpublished high school teacher in a provincial
Russian town when he burst onto the literary stage in 1962 with A Day in the
Life of Ivan Denishovich."

In 1970 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. In his undelivered
acceptance speech, leaked to the world by friends, Solzhenitsyn defined the
role of the author or artist as that of truth-teller against lies. The
responsibility of the courageous author, he argued, "is not to partake in
falsehood, not to support false actions." The Nobel committee cited his
"ethical force" as the power of his literary achievement.

Nevertheless, when Khrushchev was toppled by Kremlin hardliners in 1964, the
opening in the culture quickly closed. From this point onward, Solzhenitsyn
was under constant threat and his writings were banned within the Soviet
Union. In 1973, Solzhenitsyn allowed the publication of The Gulag
Archipelago. The massive work had been smuggled out of the Soviet Union,
but the KGB, the Soviet spy service, was closing in. Solzhenitsyn's typist,
Elizaveta Voronyanskaya, hung herself shortly after her interrogation by the
KGB. Solzhenitsyn then unleashed the work, which was quickly published
around the world.

The Gulag Archipelago is a work of non-fiction, revealing the massive and
murderous nature of the Soviet regime. The work could not be refuted.
Soviet propagandists attempted to label Solzhenitsyn a "traitor" to the
Soviet Union -- a move that only served to demonstrate the veracity of
Solzhenitsyn's central claims. The Soviet Union was embarrassed before the
watching world, but Soviet authorities had reached the breaking point and
Solzhenitsyn was expelled in 1974, soon followed by his wife and three sons.

In The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn explained why the story had to be
told:

"We have to condemn publicly the very idea that some people have the right
to repress others. In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep
within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it,
and it will rise up a thousandfold in the future. When we neither punish nor
reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we
are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new
generations."



American diplomat George Kennan, himself one of the chief architects of
American policy during the Cold War, would describe The Gulag Archipelago as
"the greatest and most powerful single indictment of a political regime ever
to be leveled in modern times." The Times of London went so far as to
speculate, "The time may come when we date the beginning of the collapse of
the Soviet Union from the appearance of Gulag."



Solzhenitsyn would outlive the Soviet Union by seventeen years. He died on
Sunday of complications from heart disease at age 89. As he had declared
when he was expelled from his homeland in 1974, he died on Russian soil.



He was a man of contradictions or, as Joseph Pearce argues, a man of
paradox. In any event, he was a man of great moral vision who revealed the
brutality of the Soviet regime and contributed greatly to its collapse.
Edward E. Erickson, who wrote two major works on Solzhenitsyn, argues that
the key to understanding Solzhenitsyn is Christianity -- the Russian
Orthodox faith that framed Solzhenitsyn's worldview. Erickson argued that
"in a day when secular humanism flourishes among the cultural and
intellectual elite, he holds fast to traditional Christian beliefs."



Indeed, Solzhenitsyn railed against the secularism and spiritual weakness of
the West, even as he took refuge in Cavendish, Vermont for the years of his
exile. In his famous 1978 Harvard University commencement address, "A World
Split Apart," Solzhenitsyn pointed to the moral and spiritual crisis in the
West. He declared that America's experiment with democracy was being
undermined by secularism:



However, in early democracies, as in the American democracy at the time of
its birth, all individual human rights were granted because man is God's
creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the
assumption of his constant religious responsibility. Such was the heritage
of the preceding thousand years. Two hundred or even fifty years ago, it
would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual could be
granted boundless freedom simply for the satisfaction of his instincts or
whims. Subsequently, however, all such limitations were discarded everywhere
in the West; a total liberation occurred from the moral heritage of
Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice. State
systems were -- State systems were becoming increasingly and totally
materialistic. The West ended up by truly enforcing human rights, sometimes
even excessively, but man's sense of responsibility to God and society grew
dimmer and dimmer.



He was a man of massive courage and literary ability -- a central character
of the twentieth century. He was a moralist to the core, affirming human
dignity against Communist oppression and Stalin's murder of millions. Even
so, he carried on an affair with the woman who became his second wife and
the mother of his sons. He seemed ungrateful to America, but he also saw
what many Americans, blinded by historical optimism, could not or would not
see in the weakness of the West.



He returned to Russia a prophet, but also a man who seemed strangely out of
his times. In his case, a great life of the twentieth century lingered
awkwardly into the twenty-first. Nevertheless, his great courage and his
literary achievement remain a tribute to the human spirit. Even more,
Solzhenitsyn's moral vision serves as a reminder that Christianity alone
provides an adequate grounding for human dignity.



When asked once about the force of his writings, Solzhenitsyn explained:
"The secret is that when you've been pitched head first into hell you just
write about it." The world was changed because he did just that.

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