Are You Coming to Jesus Tonight?

hawes

(picture of James E. Hawes, though I do not know for sure if it is the same James E. Hawes)

“ARE YOU COMING TO JESUS TONIGHT?”

“The Spirit and the bride say, Come” (Rev. 22:17)

INTRO.: A song which extends the invitation of the Spirit and the bride to come is “Are You Coming to Jesus Tonight?” (#312 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #628 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Jessie H. Brown Pounds (1861-1921). Other famous songs by Mrs. Pounds include “The Way of the Cross Leads Home,” “Anywhere With Jesus,” and “Beautiful Isle of Somewhere.” The tune for “Are You Coming To Jesus Tonight?” was composed by James Edward Hawes, who was born in Vermillion County, IL, near Danville, on Aug. 18, 1862. While growing up, he was nicknamed “the preacher” because of his exceptional moral life. Evidently he became a well-known song leader among churches of Christ and Christian Churches in the latter part of the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century, as well as a preacher.

The late Elsie Johnson Ayres, in her 1971 history of Highland County, OH, entitled Hills of Highland, wrote the following item about the founding of the “Church of Christ” (now an instrumental or independent Christian Church) in the county seat of Hillsboro (which happens to be my hometown). “The Church of Christ was organized because a devoted mother felt the need for a simple primitive gospel of Christ in Hillsboro. Mrs. Solomon Hughes was responsible for obtaining the services of Rev. J. V. Updike, who came and held a meeting in the Solomon Hughes home. The result was so many interested people that arrangements were made for him to return and hold a series of evangelistic meetings. J. V. Updike was regarded as the greatest evangelist among the Disciples of Christ. His mother was a Lincoln, a close relative of President Abraham Lincoln. A tent was erected on the Webster school ground, in which Updike and his song leader, J. E. Hawes, held services for several weeks. When the services were over, the Hillsboro Church was organized Aug. 6, 1888, with thirty-three charter members” (p. 199).

This song was first published in 1889 with the copyright renewed in 1917 and owned by William E. Hackleman. As implied in the Ayres quote, Hawes formed an evangelistic team about 1885, after the example of Dwight L. Moody and Ira D. Sankey, with Jacob V. Updike (1850-1907). They met with great success before disbanding to become located ministers. According to The Christian Evangelist of Dec. 16, 1901, Hawes was located as minister with the Church of Christ in Greenwich, OH. Also, Hawes edited a hymnbook entitled The Gospel Invitation: Book of Songs and Hymns which was published in 1892 by Fillmore Brothers of Cincinnati, OH, composed a 1900 tune for the hymn “Have You Not a Word for Jesus?” written in 1871 by Frances R. Havergal, and is credited by Hymnary.org as the author of fourteen hymn texts. While travelling to Columbus, OH, he died after being hit by a train near Upper Sandusky, in Wyandot County, OH, on Aug. 23, 1933, at the age of 71, and was buried at Ada in Hardin County, OH, where he had served as minister with the Church of Christ for over twenty years.

Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, “Are You Coming to Jesus Tonight?” has 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 1959 Majestic Hymnal No. 2 and the 1978 Hymns of Praise both edited by Reuel Lemmons; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 edited by Tillit S. Teddlie; the 1971 Songs of the Church and the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed. both edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat; the 2009 Favorite Songs of the Church and the 2010 Songs for Worship and Praise both edited by Robert J. Taylor Jr.; and the 2012 Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs edited by Steve Wolfgang et. al; in addition to Hymns for Worship and Sacred Selections.

The song extends the invitation as if coming from several different voices

I. Stanza 1 mentions the voice of the Savior
The voice of the Savior says, Come;
The cross where He died is in sight;
E’en now at the cross there is room;
Are you coming to Jesus tonight?
A. The voice of the Savior calls us to come to Him for rest: Matt. 11:28-30
B. The basis for this call is His death on the cross as revealed in Scripture: 1 Cor. 1:18
C. There is room for all because salvation is available to everyone: Mk. 16:15-16

II. Stanza 2 mentions the voice of the Father
The voice of the Father implores
From mercy’s most wonderful height;
His love in that call He outpours:
Are you coming to Jesus tonight?
A. The voice of the Father implores us to come just as He did to Israel: Isa. 1:18
B. His call reveals His mercy to make our salvation possible: Tit. 3:5
C. In this call He also pours out His love for sinful mankind: Jn. 3:16

III. Stanza 3 mentions the voices of loved ones
The voices of loved ones entreat:
You know in your heart they are right;
Then list, for the moments are fleet!
Are you coming to Jesus tonight?
A. Many people have loved ones praying for them, just as Paul prayed for his brethren of Israel that they might be saved: Rom. 10:1 (as usual, in Sacred Selections editor Ellis Crum changed this line to “saved ones” lest people should think that they might just have some “loved ones” who are concerned about their souls’ salvation)
B. Also, many such people for whom prayers are being offered know in their hearts what is right, and Jesus said if we know something, we can be happy only if we do it: Jn. 13:17
C. Thus, they should listen and respond because the moments are fleet: Jas. 4:14

IV. Stanza 4 mentions the voices of friends gone before
The voices of friends gone before
Seem floating from regions of light;
They tenderly say o’er and o’er,
Are you coming to Jesus tonight?
A. Those “gone before” obviously refers to friends who have died: Heb. 9:27 (again, Ellis Crum changed this line to read “saints gone before” lest anyone should think that he or she might just have any “loved ones” in Paradise—and the song doesn’t even necessarily imply that these loved ones are necessarily saved)
B. The “regions of light” may well simply be “the heavenly places” or the unseen realm of the spirit world: Eph. 6:12
C. The rich man in torments did not want his five brothers to come to that place and so asked if they could be warned: Lk. 16:27-28

V. Stanza 5 mentions the voice of the one being entreated
O who to himself will be true,
Of all whom these voices invite?
Who answers, my brother, do you?
Are you coming to Jesus tonight?
A. Each person needs to be true to himself rather than deceiving himself: Gal. 6:3
B. Therefore, we need to listen carefully to all these voices which invite: Matt. 17:5
C. And we should answer as soon as possible: 2 Cor. 6:2 (again, as usual, Crum in Sacred Selections changed “my brother,” a common general greeting in days gone by, to “dear sinner;: also, many books change the last two lines to give a response, “Who answers, my brother, do you, ‘I am coming to Jesus tonight.’” I have not been able to determine for sure which is the original, but if I had to guess I would say “Who answers, my brother, do you? Are you coming to Jesus tonight?)

CONCL.: The chorus continues to plead with those who are lost to come to Jesus:
Are you coming to Jesus tonight?
Are you coming to Jesus tonight?
The Bride and the Spirit invite;
Are you coming to Jesus tonight?
Obviously, this would not be an appropriate invitation song to lead during a morning worship service. However, it has been a popular and effective song of encouragement through the years to ask sinners, “Are You Coming to Jesus Tonight?”

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