The King James Version has long been a beloved, trusted translation of scripture. Its influence is also still seen and heard in our teaching, preaching, prayers, and songs, with the melodic, Elizabethan English. The song “We Have Heard The Joyful Sound” is but one example of the influence of this grand old version upon songs we still sing today. Priscilla Owens wrote this song at the tail end of the “Great Awakening,” a time when the industrial age and inventions for efficiency were being created, and a time when our nation, from Manifest Destiny to various reforms and emerging from the ravages of the Civil War, was greatly optimistic. Churches not only felt that jubilation, but felt that such privileges meant heightened responsibility. Though times seem bleaker overall today, Christians still enjoy unmatched privileges and are faced with as great a responsibility. Consider the lyrics.
The first verse proclaims the fact of salvation, urging the worshipper to tell others. “Spread the tidings all around” is an exhortation to share the gospel, the glad tidings of good things. “Bear the news” means to take it, and we are urged to take it up the mountains and across the ocean–wherever we can. Why? The Lord has commanded it.
The second verse begins with a word we seldom use: “Waft.” Again, “Praise For The Lord” helps us with a glossary entry at the bottom, showing us it means “propel.” Again, the call is to take the gospel to not only our neighborhoods, but to foreign lands. The impact of evangelism is shown in hyperbole and personification, that even islands and caves will reverberate their joy of the taught word. The Jubilee (Lev. 25) was the year of a new beginning. It seems the songwriter is referring to the new life brought by the gospel, and those who obey it enjoy the greatest new beginning of all.
The third verse speaks of the circumstances in which the gospel must go. It must be shared in time of war, when times are sad, and when we struggle with personal problems. No matter the adversity, the cause for rejoicing remains: “Jesus saves!”
Finally, the fourth verse may well be an allusion to Psalm 68, or at least a call to do as God did in the long ago in showing His might and power (see Psalm 68:33 in the KJV). This last stanza is the most urgent call to fulfill the Great Commission. Speak the word which will cause mankind to rejoice. Tell it everywhere. Let everyone know the reason for the hope that is in us: “Jesus saves!”
The entire song makes me think of Psalm 107:2: “Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, Whom He has redeemed from the hand of the adversary.”