"WHAT SHALL IT PROFIT?"
"…What shall it profit a man…? What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Mk. 8.36-37)
INTRO.: A song which asks what a man can give in exchange for his soul is "What Shall It Profit?" (#486 in Hymns for Worship Revised and #41 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Johnson Oatman Jr. (1856-1922). He produced several hymn texts that are found in our books including "Count Your Blessings," "Higher Ground," "The Last Mile of the Way," "Lift Him Up," "No, Not One," "Sweeter than All," "Hand In Hand With Jesus," and "I’ll Be A Friend To Jesus." The tune was composed by John Bunyan Herbert who was born at Cambridge, OH, on Sept. 14, 1852. His family moved to Monmouth, IL , when he was an infant, and he was educated at Monmouth College, graduating in its very first class. After graduation, he attended the Hahnemann Medical College in Chicago, IL, but continued to study music and sang in choirs.
Though practicing medicine for several years, music was Herbert’s first love. In 1858 he met composer George Root who visited Monmouth. They became good friends, and after studying with both Root and Philip P. Bliss, Herbert closed his medical practice and began working in music full time. At one time, he taught at the Southern Development Normal music school in Waco, TX, founded by Franklin L. Eiland. "What Shall It Profit" was copyrighted in 1916 by the Hildebrand-Burnett Co. Herbert is credited with some nineteen collections before his death at Monmouth on May 19, 1927. In 1935 the song was said to be controlled by L. O. Sanderson. However, other books say that it was copyrighted in 1934 by Mrs. Walter G. Taylor and assigned to the Rodeheaver Company, which is said to have renewed it in 1944 and then again in 1962.
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 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; the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; the 1971 Songs of the Church (original edition only) edited by Alton H. Howard; and the 1978 Hymns of Praise edited by Reuel
Lemmons. Today it may be found in 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, and Sacred Selections.
The song contrasts the material wealth of the world to the value of the soul.
I. Stanza 1 tells us that riches cannot make us whole
"Not all earth’s gold and silver Can make a sinner whole;
What shall it profit thee, O man, If thou should’st lose thy soul?"
A. We are not redeemed with silver and gold: 1 Pet. 1.18
B. However, we do need to be made whole by being saved from our sin: 1 Tim. 1.15
C. Therefore, it is possible for one to have physical wealth but still be lost spiritually: Lk. 15.11-24
II. Stanza 2 tells us that riches cannot save our soul
"The heaping up of riches To many seems life’s goal;
But in the eager rush for wealth, Forgotten is the soul."
A. It is true that the heaping up of riches is life’s goal for many: 1 Tim. 6.9-10
B. Therefore, they join the eager rush for wealth as covetous idolaters: Eph. 5.5
C. In the process, they forget that they have a soul that shall one day be required of them: Lk. 12.15-21
III. Stanza 3 tells us that riches cannot be compared to the soul
"This solemn question answer: Is worldly gain thy goal?
Can fleeting riches be compared To an immortal soul?"
A. Each one of us should ask himself if worldly gain is his goal: Mk. 10.17-25
B. Riches are fleeting: Eccl. 5.10-16
C. Therefore, they cannot be compared to an immortal soul that God can destroy in hell: Matt. 10.28
CONCL.: The chorus uses the words of Jesus to focus our thoughts on this important topic.
"What shall it profit a man, What shall it profit a man,
If he gain the whole world, And lose his own soul?"
There are not many songs which deal specifically with the subject of materialism. Yet, there are probably more warnings in the scriptures against covetousness and the love of money than any other particular kind of sin. So, each time we consider the amassing of the things of this world and how they might affect our souls, we should ask ourselves, "What Shall It Profit?"