“What Shall It Be?”

"What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?" (Matt. 27.22)

     INTRO.: A song which takes this question asked by Pilate and applies it to each of us is "What Shall It Be?" (#327 in Hymns for Worship Revised). The text was written by James Robinson, about whom no further information seems available. The tune was composed by Bentley DeForest Ackley, who was born on Sept. 27, 1872, at Spring Hill, PA. As a boy, he learned to play the melodeon, piano, cornet, clarinet, and piccolo while accompanying his father on music teaching trips and playing in his fourteen-piece band. After going to New York in 1888 to study stenography and serving as an organist in New York City and Brooklyn, he joined the evangelist team of Billy Sunday, for which Homer Rodeheaver was song director, in 1907.

     For some eight years, Ackley travelled with them as a musician and secretary. His younger brother, Alfred H. Ackley, was also a gospel songwriter. Later, both of them served as hymn composers and songbook editors for the Rodeheaver Publishing Company, supplying the firm with new songs for congregational singing, soloists, and choirs. The invitation song, "What Shall It Be," was produced in 1926 and copyrighted by the Gospel Advocate Company. Its first publication was in Sweeter Than All Songs edited for the Gospel Advocate in 1927 by C. M. Pullias.

     In all, Ackley composed more than 3,000 hymn tunes, over 100 of which were in a collaboration that began in 1930 with Oswald J. Smith, including "There Is Joy In Serving Jesus" and "God Understands." Among his other well-known songs are "I Walk With The King" and "I Would Be Like Jesus," both of which have appeared in some of our books, and with his brother "In The Service Of The King" and "Till The Whole World Knows." In recognition of his contribution to sacred music, Ackley was awarded an honorary Doctor of Sacred Music degree from Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC. Shortly afterwards, he died on Sept. 3, 1958, at Winona Lake, IN.

     Among other hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, "What Shall It Be" was used 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 for the Gospel Advocate; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; and the 1975 Supplement to the 1937 Great Songs of the Church originally edited by E. L. Jorgenson. Today it is 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; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.

     This song explains why the question of what we do with Jesus is so important.

I. According to stanza 1, the question is important because our salvation depends on what answer we give.
"’What will you do with Jesus?’ The question comes to you!
And you must give an answer, For something you must do."
 A. This question comes to each of us because we must choose whom we shall serve: Josh. 24.14-15
 B. We must give an answer because no one can serve two masters: Matt. 6.24
 C. Therefore, we must do something, for only those who do what the Lord commands will be saved: Acts 2.37-38, 9.6-18, 16.30-34

II. According to stanza 2, the question is important because Jesus is waiting for us to give our answer.
"’What will you do with Jesus?’ It comes by night and day;
With pierced hands uplifted, He waits–what will you say?"
 A. This question comes by night and day because the Lord’s invitation to come to Him is always extended and open to anyone: Matt. 11.28-30
 B. Christ is pictured with pierced hands uplifted in extending His plea for us to come and be cleansed in His blood: Jn. 20.24-28
 C. Thus, He waits for us to answer that we will come and follow Him: Matt. 16.24

III. According to stanza 3, the question is important because someday we may not be able to respond with a positive answer.
"’What will you do with Jesus?’ He’s knocking at the door!
Refuse Him, soul, no longer, Lest He should plead no more."
 A. John pictures Jesus knocking at the door of the hearts of all those who are not right with Him: Rev. 3.20
 B. Those who need to accept Him are urged to refuse Him no longer: Heb. 12.25
 C. The reason why it is needful to receive Him now is that there may come a time when He will plead no more. Of course, that time happens for everyone at death. Yet, even before death, it is possible for a person to become so hardened in heart that any pleas of the Lord become useless: Heb. 6.4-6

IV. According to stanza 4, the question is important because only Jesus can save us by His death.
"Remember what He suffered, And how He died for thee;
While yet He calls in patience, What shall your answer be?"
 A. We certainly do need to remember what He suffered and how He died for us: Rom. 5.8
 B. Hence, we need to listen while He still calls and says that now is the day of salvation: 2 Cor. 6.2
 C. And we need to give our answer while it is still today: Heb. 3.15

     CONCL.: The chorus repeats the plea to the sinful soul about the importance of answering this question:
"What shall it be? what shall it be? What shall your answer be?
What will you do with Jesus? Oh, what shall your answer be?"
All responsible human beings have sinned and come short of God’s glory. Yet, He loved us enough to send Jesus to die as an atonement for our sins, reveal His plan for our redemption in the gospel, and offer salvation to all who obey Him. The question that each one of us must ask and answer for ourselves is, "What Shall It Be?"


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