“Take Time to Be Holy”

"Be ye holy for I am holy" (1 Pet. 1:16)

     INTRO.: A hymn which exhorts us to be holy just as God is holy is "Take Time to Be Holy" (#118 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #55 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by William Dunn Longstaff, who was born at Sunderland in Durham, England, on Jan. 28, 1822, the son of a wealthy shipowner. Being of financially independent means, he was generous in giving to charitable and philanthropic causes.  When his friend Arthur A. Rees left the Anglican Church and established the Bethesda Free Chapel in Sunderland, Longstaff went with him, serving both as treasurer and building supervisor. The exact details surrounding the origin of this song are somewhat in dispute, but it seems that around 1874 Longstaff heard a sermon preached in a meeting, either at Keswick according to Ira D. Sankey, or at New Brighton according to the composer of the tune (Holiness or Longstaff), George Coles Stebbins (1846-1945).

     It is possible that there is no conflict in these two accounts, though most sources are inclined to give more credence to Stebbins. In any event, the topic of the sermon was holiness. Sankey said that it was based on the text, "Be ye holy, for I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16). Stebbins later wrote that the speaker told of Griffith John, a missionary to China, and quoted a statement that the missionary had made at a conference in China, in which he had told the audience, "Take time and be holy." The thought struck Longstaff, and the words are said to have been put down on paper that evening. They first appeared in print as a poem in an English publication, Hymns of Consecration, a collection used at Keswick around 1882. The tune with which we are familiar was composed for this text in 1890 by Stebbins during a trip to India.

     The poem had been clipped from a periodical by a friend and given to Stebbins several months before he went to India. Then, while assisting George F. Pentecost and other preachers during their India campaign with conferences in various cities such as Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, he found the clipping among the papers that he had taken with him, provided the melody, and mailed it to Sankey, who published it in his 1890 book, Winnowed Songs for Sunday School and the following year in Gospel Songs No. 6. Interestingly enough, Longstaff was also a friend of Sankey and the man whom Sankey served as music director, Dwight L. Moody. Moody preached at the Bethesda Chapel, and Longstaff was active with their team’s campaigns in England until his death at Cambridge Terrace in Sunderland on Apr. 2, 1894.

     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 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; 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.

     It is obvious that the emphasis in this hymn is holiness.

I. According to stanza 1, God wants us to be holy as He is holy
"Take time to be holy, Speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide in Him always, And feed on His word.
Make friends of God’s children; Help those who are weak,
Forgetting in nothing His blessing(s) to seek."
 A. God wants us to develop holiness, without which no one can see the Lord: Heb. 12:14
 B. To do this, we must speak oft with the Lord in prayer: Phil. 4:6-7
 C. And we must feed on His word: 2 Tim. 3:16-17

II. According to stanza 2, one result of holiness in our lives is that our friends should see Christ’s likeness in us
"Take time to be holy, The world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret With Jesus alone.
Abiding in Jesus, Like Him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see."
 A. We should spend much time in secret with Jesus alone because He is our perfect example: 1 Pet. 2:21-22
 B. By abiding in Jesus, we will be presenting our members as instruments of righteousness and being servants of righteousness: Rom. 6:13-19
 C. And if we are truly striving to be holy, then others should be able to see Christ in us: Gal. 2:20

II. According to stanza 3, another result of holiness in our lives is that we let Christ be our Guide and not run before Him but follow His will in all things
"Take time to be holy, Let Him be thy Guide;
And run not before Him, whatever betide.
In joy or in sorrow, Still follow thy Lord;
And, looking to Jesus, Still trust in His word."
 A. Running before Him signifies going beyond and not abiding in the doctrine of Christ: 2 Jn. vs. 9-11
 B. Those who seek to be holy will not allow anything, even family, to keep them from denying themselves, taking up the cross, and following their Lord: Matt. 10:34-38
 C. Instead, they will trust in the Lord and His word above all else: Ps. 37:3-5

IV. According to stanza 4, the ultimate result of holiness in our lives is that we shall be fitted for service above in the next life
"Take time to be holy, Be calm in thy soul,
Each thought and each motive beneath His control.
Thus led by His Spirit To fountains of love,
Thou soon shalt be fitted For service above."
 A. Being "led by His Spirit" does not necessarily suggest having some miraculous or direct operation of the Spirit in our lives; the Bible does speak of our being "led by the Spirit," referring to the guidance that He provides through the written word: Gal. 5:18, Eph. 6:17
 B. Being led by the Spirit, we have the hope of coming to the fountains of love: Rev. 7:16-17
 C. In this way, by adding to our faith those characteristics that will help us to be holy, we can be fitted for service above and have an
entrance supplied to us into the everlasting kingdom: 2 Pet. 1:5-11

     CONCL.: It is interesting that most of our older books had all four stanzas, but most of our newer books omit stanza 3. In fact, Alton Howard went from the full song in the original 1971 Songs of the Church to the three-stanza version in later editions!  It could have been a matter of space in some books, but a friend once observed that stanza 3 might have been omitted because some editors did not like the warning about not running before Him. That may be. I am glad that Praise for the Lord has restored it. God wants Christians to be holy. However, such holiness is not something that happens automatically with the turning on of a switch but something that takes time and effort to develop. Following the advice of this song, especially to "Spend much time in secret With Jesus alone," both by prayer and studying His word, will surely help us to "Take Time to Be Holy."


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