"…Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise" (Matt. 21.16)
INTRO.: A song which expresses the joy and beauty of the praise that comes out of the mouths of babes is "Joy-Bells." The text was written by Josephine Pollard (1834-1892). Born in New York City, NY, she joined with Fanny J. Crosby and Mary Ann Kidder as a trio of poetesses who produced the bulk of poems that William B. Bradbury and his associates set to music for their Sunday school hymnbooks. A couple of her other songs, "Beyond the Sunset’s Radiant Glow" from 1871 and "There Are Lights By the Shore," have appeared in our books. "Joy-Bells" was published as a children’s song. I have been unable to find any other information about it, its date, or the source of origin.
The tune was composed by Henry Tucker. Apparently, the music was produced in 1867 but was used in Hymns of Praise, edited by George A. Bell and Hubert P. Main and published in 1884 by Biglow and Main in New York City, NY, with a hymn "Praise our Savior" by W. C. Peckham.
1. "Praise our Savior, in our measure, Sound aloud His wondrous Name;
Gladly singing, praises bringing, Heart and voice His love proclaim."
2. "Send His story, spread His glory, To the earth’s remotest bound;
Tell the tidings–gracious tidings–Where a sinful soul is found."
3. Worship, honor, strength, and blessing, Be to Him forever paid’
Love increasing, thanks unceasing, For the life His death hath made."
There is also a refrain that has different music from the stanzas. I have not been able to find any further information about the composer, except that he lived in the 19th century and also provided a tune for a rather little known song "Jesus, Help Me" by Fanny Crosby. Also, I do not know whether the tune was originally intended for "Joy-Bells" or for the other hymn by Peckham. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, "Joy-Bells" appeared in the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 edited by E. L. Jorgenson; and the 1955 Youth Melodies and Action Songs edited by Palmer E. Wheeler.
The song is filled with the exuberance of childhood and youth.
I. Stanza 1 emphasizes the guilelessness of children
"Joy-bells ringing, children singing, Fill the air with music sweet;
Joyful measure, guileless treasure, Make the chain of song complete."
A. Even the Psalmist recognized the value of praise offered by children: Ps. 8.2
B. One reason for this is their guilelessness, which is part of why Jesus said that we must become as little children: Matt. 18.3
C. As we follow this example of children, it will help to make our own chain of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs complete: Col. 3.16
II. Stanza 2 emphasizes the happiness of children
"Joy-bells ringing, children singing, Hark their voices loud and clear,
Breaking o’er us like a chorus, From a purer, happier sphere."
A. God wants us all, adults and children alike, to use our voices and lips in praising Him: Heb. 13.15
B. Thus, we can join our voices together in a chorus of joy in singing psalms to Him: Jas. 5.13
C. The purity of children singing praise to God is akin to the praise offered by the redeemed round the throne in that happier sphere: Rev. 5.8-10
III. Stanza 3 emphasizes the joyfulness of children
"Earth seems brighter, hearts grow lighter, As the gladsome melody
Charms our sadness into gladness, Pealing, pealing joyfully."
A. When we can sing with a merry heart, it makes our lives brighter and lighter: Prov. 15.13, 17.22
B. Therefore, it is always good to make gladsome melody in our hearts to the Lord: Eph. 5.19
C. Indeed, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord is one of the ways that God has given us to "rejoice in the Lord": Phil. 4.4
CONCL.: At first glance this may not seem like a hymn or even a "religious" song at all. However, if we were to use the song in a church service, we could easily understand the singing, voices, and melody all to refer to praising God in worship. While we recognize that the scriptures do not authorize or even mention the use of bells in giving praise to God, we know that bells are often used to express joy on happy occasions and thus can still understand the figurative nature of the words in likening the songs that we sing to worship our God to "Joy-Bells."