“Work, for the Night Is Coming”

"…The night cometh, when no man can work" (Jn. 9.4)

     INTRO.: A song which points out that one of the essentials of the Christian’s life is to work while we have the time is "Work, For the Night Is Coming" (#381 in Hymns for Worship Revised and #116 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Annie Louise Walker, who was born at Kiddermore in Staffordshire, England, in 1836. Her brothers had emigrated to Canada, and in 1854, at the age of eighteen, she penned these words while on a visit to them from England. It is thought that the short summers in the north country, with their need for haste in getting the crops started as early as possible so that they could be harvested before the coming of bad weather, served as her motivation. The poem was first published with nine stanzas in a Canadian newspaper later that same year.

     About 1857, the rest of the Walker family moved to Canada, where Annie’s father, Robert, was employed as a civil engineer in the construction of the Canadian Grand Trunk Railway. During their six years in Canada, Annie and her two older sisters conducted a private school for girls. A few years after their move, in 1861, the poem appeared in the author’s own collection, Leaves from the Backwoods, published at Montreal in Quebec. About 1863 Annie returned to England where she obtained a position as a governess and worked as a book reviewer. The tune (Work Song) was composed by Lowell Mason (1792-1872). Mason saw her original poem, made several alterations in it to fit it for music, and first published the hymn with three stanzas as we know it in his work The Garden of Song, second book, compiled in 1864 at Boston, MA, for use in music classes at public schools.  It is reported that Annie was not pleased with the changes.

     Several years later, in 1883, Annie married Harry Coghill, a successful and wealthy merchant in England. For this reason, many hymnbooks identify her as Annie L. Coghill, although she authored the hymn while still Annie L. Walker. The Coghills made their home at Coghurst Hall near Hastings, England. Eventually, she attained some prominence as a poet and author, producing or editing several volumes, including six novels, a book of children’s plays, several collections of poems such as Oak and Maple in 1890, and the Autobiography and Letters of her cousin Mrs. Oliphant in 1898, all of which enjoyed wide circulation in their day. Annie Louise Walker Coghill died at Bath, England, on July 7, 1907.

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, "Work for the Night Is Coming" 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 and the 1990 Songs of the Church 2st C. Ed. both edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.

     Annie’s lone-surviving hymn states simply but meaningfully the joy of working for the Lord.

I. In stanza 1, we are encouraged to work for the Lord in the morning hours
"Work, for the night is coming, Work through the morning hours;
Work while the dew is sparkling, Work ‘mid springing flowers.
Work when the day grows brighter, Work in the glowing sun;
Work, for the night is coming, When man’s work is done."
 A. The morning hours may represent the days of our youth, and God wants those who are young, with their strengths, to remember and serve Him: Eccl. 11.9–12.1
 B. But what is necessary for a young person to be able to remember and serve the Lord? Ps. 119.9-11
 C. What is it that God wants young people to do for Him? 1 Tim. 4.12

II. In stanza 2, we are exhorted to continue our labors through the sunny noon
"Work, for the night is coming, Work through the sunny noon;
Fill brightest hours with labor, Rest comes sure and soon.
Give every flying minute Something to keep in store;
Work, for the night is coming, When man works no more."
 A. The sunny noon might represent the time of middle-age, which is a prime time to be laborers in the Lord’s vineyard, yet there are so many hindrances during this time, such as the cares of this life: Mk. 4.18-19
 B. Another hindrance during this time is the desire for the things of this life: Lk. 12.13-21
 C. Still another such hindrance is seeking after the pleasures of this life: 2 Tim. 3.1-4

III. In stanza 3, we are admonished to keep on working even under the sunset skies
"Work, for the night is coming, Under the sunset skies;
While their bright tints are glowing, Work, for daylight flies.
Work till the last beam fadeth, Fadeth to shine no more;
Work while the night is darkening, When man’s work is o’er."
 A. The sunset skies would represent the days when the end of life begins to approach, and old age is not a time to give up working for the Lord: Rom. 13.11-14
 B. Why do those in old age need to continue working for the Lord? One reason is that those who are younger need the experience and mature of age to guide them: Tit. 2.1-3, 1 Pet. 5.5
 C. Another reason is that we all be faithful until death to receive the crown of life: Rev. 2.10

IV. One of the omitted stanzas we are adminished to devote our work to the saving of souls for Jesus
"Work for the blessed Master, Long as He lends you breath;
His precious blood redeemed you, Saved your soul from death.
Work, for the world is lying Under the curse of sin;
Work, for the Savior calls you Other souls to win."
 A. We should work to save souls as long as Christ lends us breath because He shed His precious blood to redeem mankind: Eph. 1:7
 B. The reason for this sacrifice is that the whole world is lying under the curse of sin: 1 Jn. 5:19
 C. Because God is not willing that any should perish, He calls His people to win souls: Prov. 11:30

     CONCL.: In the physical realm, God has always required that mankind work for his livelihood on this earth, even in the Garden of Eden where he was to dress and keep the garden, and most certainly after the fall.  In like manner, He asks that His people work for Him in the spiritual realm. Our lives as Christians demand that we be workers for the Lord with whatever abilities and opportunities are ours, throughout our lives on earth. So, we need to "Work, For The Night Is Coming."


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