“O Why Not Tonight?”

"Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your heart…" (Ps. 95.7-8)

     INTRO.: A song which exhorts those who are outside of Christ to hear His voice today and harden not their hearts is "O Why Not Tonight?" (#315 in Hymns for Worship Revised, and #629 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Elizabeth (or Eliza) Holmes Reed, who was born in London, England, on Mar. 4, 1794, the daughter of Jasper Thomas Holmes of Castle Hill in Reading, England. In 1816, she was married to Andrew Reed, whose father was a watchmaker and Congregational preacher. After learning his father’s trade, Andrew decided to become a minister too and entered Hackney College in 1807. For fifty years, from 1811 to 1861 he served at the New Road Chapel in the St. Georges area of East London (which later built the Wycliffe Chapel). In 1817, he published The Hymn Book, intended as a supplement to the Psalms and Hymns of Isaac Watts. It was revised and enlarged in 1825 and again in 1842.

     Mrs. Reed produced twenty hymns, all of which were contributed to her husband’s collections, and authored other works such as Original Tales for Children and The Mother’s Manual for Training Her Children. "O Why Not Tonight?" first appeared in the 1842 edition of The Hymn Book under the heading "The Accepted Time." The hymns of Reed, numbering 21, and his wife were first published anonymously, but after he died in 1862, and Mrs. Reed died five years later on July 4, 1867, at St. Leonards on the Sea in Sussex, England, all of his hymns, together with those of Eliza’s, were published in the 1872 Wycliffe Chapel Supplement, where the authors’ names were given. One of Andrew’s hymns, "Holy Spirit, Light Divine" (originally "Holy Ghost With Light Divine") appears in Great Songs Revised. Another of his songs that is still used in some denominational books is "Spirit Divine, Attend Our Prayers."

     The alterations in the original text and the text of the chorus were probably the work of the composer of the tune (Calvin or Bushey), James Calvin Bushey, who was born on Sept. 8, 1847, at Arendtsville near Gettysburg, PA. A singing school teacher who lived in Ohio during the last part of the nineteenth century, Bushey compiled several collections, including The Chorus Class in 1879, Sparkling Gems in 1880, Choral Climax in 1886, and Magnetic Melodies in 1892, all published by the music firm of Will L. Thompson. Praise for the Lord gives the date of this melody as 1886, which may have been its first printing, but Christian Hymns No. 1 says "Copyright reentered 1895 by J. H. Hall." If this is a renewal, which usually took place 28 years after the initial copyright, it would make the original date as 1867. Or the 1895 date may have been simply a copyright transfer. Some of our books have another song with a tune by Bushey, "The Sinless Summerland." He died at Peoria, IL, on Oct. 15, 1929.

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, "O Why Not Tonight?" has been included in the vast majority. It appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 both edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1), the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2, and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 all edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; and the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. Today it may be 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; the 1978/1983 (Church) Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; as well as Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.

     It has become a very popular and effective invitation hymn.

I. Stanza 1 points out that we should not keep from being saved by hardening our hearts
"O do not let the word depart, And close thine eyes against the light;
Poor sinner, harden not thy heart: Be saved, O tonight."
 A. If we wish to be saved, we must not let the word depart because the gospel is God’s power to salvation: Rom. 1.16
 B. Often people let the word depart by closing their eyes against the light, as did some in Jesus’s day: Matt. 13.15
 C. Such people harden their hearts when they, like the rebellious Israelites in the wilderness, refuse to listen to the word of God: Heb. 4.1-7

II. Stanza 2 points out that since tomorrow’s sun may never rise, now is the time to be saved
"Tomorrow’s sun may never rise To bless thy long-deluded sight;
This is the time, O then be wise: Be saved, O tonight."
 A. The fact is that, since we never know when death may overtake us or when the Lord will return, tomorrow’s sun may never rise and we just do not know what will be on the morrow: Jas. 4.14
 B. Therefore, if we keep putting off until some unknown tomorrow what we need to do today, we are letting our sight be deluded, as was Felix: Acts 24.25
 C. Therefore, the Lord has always reminded us that now is the only that we can count on for salvation: 2 Cor. 6.2

III. Stanza 3 points out that God is waiting for us in pity to come to him for salvation
"Our God in pity lingers still, And wilt thou thus His love requite?
Renounce at once thy stubborn will: Be saved, O tonight."
 A. Our book has changed the first line to read "Our Lord in pity," but the thought is the same; God is merciful and wants no one to be lost but all to come to repentance: 2 Pet. 3.9
 B. To requite means to repay, and since God has loved us so much we should repay His love not with rejection but with keeping His
commandments: 1 Jn. 3.16, 4.3
 C. Therefore, we should renounce our stubborn will by repenting of our sinful rebellion: Acts 17.30-31

IV. Stanza 4 points out that we cannot be saved by the ways of the world
"The world has nothing left to give; It has no new, no pure delight.
O try the life which Christian’s live: Be saved, O tonight."
 A. Those who wish to be saved and please God must always remember that friendship with the world is enmity with God: Jas. 4.4
 B. Yes, the world offers us the pleasures of sin, but they offer no real delight because they are only temporary: Heb. 11.25
 C. Rather, people should be encouraged to try the life that Christians live because godliness is profitable both in this life and the life to come: 1 Tim. 4.8

V. Stanza 5 points out that we must believe and obey God’s will to be saved
"Our blessed Lord refuses none Who would to Him their souls unite;
Believe, obey, the work is done: Be saved, O tonight."
 A. Jesus Christ refuses no one who would come in humble submission to His will: Jn. 6.37
 B. It should be our goal to be united with Him, symbolized by putting Him on: Gal. 3.26-27
 C. The original of the third line appears to have read, "Believe in Him, the work is done," but we understand from the scriptures that true belief involves obeying the will of Christ: Heb. 5.8-9

CONCL.: The chorus repeats the plea that ends each stanza.
"O why not tonight? O why not tonight?
Wilt thou be saved? Then why not tonight?"
Many have probably heard the story, perhaps apocryphal, perhaps not, of the preacher who, on a bright Sunday morning, thundered the gospel message and ended his sermon with the plea, "As we stand and sing, ask yourself when will you be saved." Then, as if in answer to the question, the song leader arose and directed the congregation in singing, "O Why Not Tonight"!  Indeed, I have actually been preaching in Sunday morning services where this song was led. Obviously, it would not be a very good invitation song to use for a morning service. But it is certainly quite appropriate to ask those present in an evening service who need to be saved, "O Why Not Tonight?"


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