“Take My Life, O Father, Mold It”

"O Lord, Thou art our Father….and we all are the work of Thy hand" (Isa. 64.8)

     INTRO.: A song which asks the Father to mold us as the work of His hand is "Take My Life, O Father, Mold It" (#100 in Hymns for Worship Revised). The text is apparently of New England Unitarian origin and was first published anonymously in 1849 in Hymns for the Sanctuary, edited by Cyrus Augustus Bartol, who was born at Freeport, ME, on Apr. 30, 1813.  Graduated from Bowdoin in 1832 and Cambridge Divinity School in 1835, he became assistant to Charles Lowell, minister of the West Church (Unitarian) in Boston, MA, and then became sole minister in 1861 when Lowell died. Active in philanthropic movements, he published several books, many essays, and some poetry which were deeply religious but more ethical and social than theological.

     Though becoming a Transcendentalist who sought to infuse vitality and spirit into the Unitarian Church, Barton was a conservative and found himself disagreeing with the more extreme positions of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Theodore Parker. As a result he founded the Free Religious Association and felt a bond of kinship with Amos Bronson Alcott in that both believed in a personal theism. Bartol published his Hymns for the Sanctuary, commonly known as the West Boston Unitarian Collection, with this hymn seemingly in four or five stanzas beginning, "Take my heart, O Father, take it." Stanza 1 was considerably altered in the 1864 Hymns of the Spirit edited by fellow Unitarians Samuel Longfellow and Samuel Johnson, and stanzas 2 and 3 to a lesser degree in the 1879 Hymn Tune and Service Book, from which the modern three-stanza version is taken. This text is very similar to another hymn, "Take Me, O My Father, Take Me," written in 1864 by Ray Palmer, possibly basing his words on those published by Bartol, who died in 1900.

     Here is Palmer’s hymn:
1. Take me, O my Father, take me; Take me, save me, through Thy Son;
That which Thou wouldst have me, make me, Let Thy will in me be done.
Long from Thee my footsteps straying, Thorny proved the way I trod;
Weary come I now, and praying, Take me to Thy love, my God.
2. Fruitless years with grief recalling, Humbly I confess my sin;
At Thy feet, O Father, falling, To Thy household take me in.
Freely now to Thee I proffer This relenting heart of mine;
Freely life and love I offer, Gift unworthy love like Thine.
3. Once the world’s Redeemer, dying, Bore our sins upon the tree;
On that sacrifice relying, Now I look in hope to Thee:
Father, take me; all forgiving, Fold me to Thy loving breast;
In Thy love forever living I must be forever blest.

     Among hymnbooks published for use by churches of Christ in the twentieth century, Bartol’s altered text was used with a tune (Galuppi or Vesper Hymn), attributed to Dimitri Bortniansky but now thought to have been composed by John A. Stevenson, in the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2; and with a tune (Dorrnance or Chester) by Isaac B. Woodbury in the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2 and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 both edited by L. O. Sanderson; in the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch with the Woodbury tune; and the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater with the Bortniansky/Stevenson tune. Today it may be found in the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann with another tune (Teleios) composed by Philip P. Bliss; and in the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand with the Bortniansky/Stevenson tune; in addition to Hymns for Worship and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat (both with the Woodbury tune). The original text, in four stanzas, is found in a Mennonite hymnbook which I possess with a tune (Carrington) composed by Charles E. Pollock.

     This hymn suggests several reasons why we should want God to take and mold our lives.

I. Stanza 1 tells us that He will help to keep us childlike in our faith.
"Take my life, O Father; mold it In obedience to Thy will;
And as ripening years unfold it, Help me keep it child-like still."
 A. Those who wish to please the Father must give Him their lives: Gal. 2.20
 B. The means by which we give our lives to the Father is by obeying the will of Christ: Heb. 5.8-9
 C. In so doing, we become as little children that we might enter the kingdom of heaven: Matt. 18.1-3

II. Stanza 2 tells us that He will help to keep us pure and holy
"Father, keep it pure and holy, Strong and brave, yet free from strife;
Turning from the paths unholy Of a vain and sinful life."
 A. God wants us to be holy as He is holy: 1 Pet. 1.15-16
 B. A holy life will keep itself free from strife: Rom. 13.13-14
 C. Also, it will turn from all paths unholy: 1 Thess. 1.9-10

III. Stanza 3 tells us that He will help us to gird up our minds until they are wholly His.
"Ever let Thy might surround it, Girding well the inner mind,
Till the chords of love have bound it, Father, wholly unto Thine."
 A. In order to serve God acceptably, we need His might: Eph. 3.16
 B. God’s might will help us to gird up our minds that we might be obedient children: 1 Pet. 1.13-14
 C. Thus, our minds will be dedicated only to doing the will of God: Heb. 8.10

IV. Stanza 4 tells us that He will guide us to heaven
"May the blood of Jesus heal me, And my sins be all forgiven;
Holy Spirit, take and seal me, Guide me in the path to heaven."
 A. When we sin, it is the blood of Jesus that will heal and forgive us: 1 Jn. 1.7-9
 B. Some object to addressing any petition to the Holy Spirit, but my personal conviction is that since the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit does do things for us (I do not believe that these are done directly but through the influence of His word), there is nothing wrong with calling upon the Holy Spirit in song to do that which the scriptures teach that He will do, such as seal us: Eph. 1.13-14
 C. Having been forgiven through the blood of Jesus and led by the teaching of the Spirit in the written word, the Lord will guide us in the path that leads to heaven: 1 Pet. 1.3-5

      CONCL.: It might be interesting to compare the original stanza 1 as a fitting recapitulation of the theme of this song.
"Take my heart, O Father, take it, Make and keep it all Thine own;
Let Thy Spirit melt and break it–This proud heart of sin and stone."
As I journey here upon this earth toward eternity, I need to maintain an attitude of complete submission to God’s will, saying, "Take My Life, O Father, Mold It."


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