"MUST I GO, AND EMPTY HANDED?"
"…He which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death…" (Jas. 5.20)
INTRO.: A song which points out that evangelism involves convering the sinner from the error of his way to save his soul from death is "Must I Go, And Empty Handed?" The text was written by Charles Carroll Luther, who was born on May 17, 1847, at Worcester, MA. After attending Brown University and graduating in 1871, he became a journalist. In 1877, he heard a minister named A. G. Upham tell a story about a young man, about thirty years old, who was about to die. The man had been a Christian only for a month, most of which was spent on a sick bed, and was sad because he regretted having had so little time to serve the Lord, saying to a friend, "I am not afraid to die; Jesus saves me now. But must I go empty handed?"
After Luther penned the words, he gave them to George Coles Stebbins (1846-1945). Stebbins, who was at Providence, RI, engaged in meetings with George F. Pentecost at the time, provided the tune (Providence) that same year or the next and published the song in the 1878 Gospel Hymns No. 3, which he, Ira David Sankey, and James McGranahan compiled. Stanza five of the original was used for the chorus. Luther later became a minister in the Baptist Church at Worcester beginning in 1886, moving to Mansfield, PA, to do evangelistic work for a while. After serving at the First Baptist Church in Bridgeport, CN, from 1891 to 1893, Luther returned to evangelism, being associated with the Baptist Mission Board of New Jersey, produced about 25 hymns, and compiled Temple Chimes, a book of hymns and gospel songs, before his death at Farmingdale on Long Island, NY, on Nov. 4, 1924.
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2 and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 both edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1952 Hymns of Praise and Devotion edited by Will W. Slater; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; and the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. Today it is found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; as well as the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat. Two stanzas of the text are also used with a tune arranged by Alphus LeFevre and copyrighted in 1967 by the LeFevre-Sing Publishing Company in the 1977 Special Sacred Selections edited by Ellis J. Crum.
The song encourages each Christian to think about the need to be active in soul winning while he can.
I. Stanza 1 asks a question
"’Must I go and empty handed,’ Thus my dear Redeemer meet?
Not one day of service give Him, Lay no trophy at His feet?"
A. In general, our Redeemer does not want us to come to Him empty handed, but as branches who are to bear fruit: Jn. 15.8,
B. Someday, we must meet our dear Redeemer, first in death, then in judgment, where we shall be judged according to our works: Heb. 9.27, Rev. 20.11-15
C. Of course, God does not hold us responsible for results but for effort; therefore, since the gospel is His power to salvation, He simply wants us to use the opportunities that we have to teach others, and through the service that we render to Him in doing this, we can be assured that we will have a trophy to lay at His feet: Rom. 1.16, 2 Tim. 2.2
II. Stanza 2 gives a reason
"Not at death I shrink or falter, For my Savior saves me now;
But to meet Him empty handed, Thought of that now clouds my brow."
A. There is no reason for the Christian to shrink or falter at death because Jesus delivered us from the fear of death: Heb. 2.14-15
B. Whatever our past may have been, if we meet God’s terms of pardon and are thus right with Him, Jesus is our Savior: Tit. 1.4
C. Most of our books have omitted this stanza, and some might object to it on the grounds that it seems to be teaching that one can be "saved," then live however he wants, and still go to heaven with losing only some of the joy of salvation. However, I prefer to look upon it as saying that since God expects people to do only what they can all who come to him, whether early or late, and even whether the converts that we have made remain or not, will receive the same reward: Matt. 20.1-16, 1 Cor. 3.12-15
III. Stanza 3 expresses regret
"O the years in sinning wasted, Could I but recall them now,
I would give them to my Savior; To His will I’d gladly bow."
A. Of course, the fact is that we cannot change the past; rather, we should learn from it, put it behind us, and press on: Phil. 3.13-14
B. However, we can hope that our experiences would encourage others to determine to give their hearts to the Savior: Prov. 23.26
C. Therefore, we may relate our regrets to others to exhort them to bow gladly before the Savior and do His will: Matt. 7.21
IV. Stanza 4 encourages others
"O ye saints, arouse, be earnest, Up to work while yet ’tis day;
Ere the night of death o’er-take us, Strive for souls while still you may."
A. The song is addressed to the saints and encourages us to arouse and be earnest: Rom. 13:12
B. The reason is that we need to work while it is day before the night comes: Jn. 9:4
C. This work involves striving to win souls: Prov. 11:30
CONCL.: The chorus continues to ask us that haunting question designed to exhort us to use the time and opportunities that we have to try and reach others.
"’Must I go and empty handed?’ Must I meet my Savior so?
Not one soul with which to greet Him: Must I empty handed go?"
This song, while prompted by such a situation, really is not about those who may learn about the Lord and turn to Him just before death. Rather, it is an admonition to me as a Christian to look at my own life, with the talents and blessings that God has given me, and determine to be a faithful servant of the Lord by asking myself, "Must I Go, And Empty Handed?"