“AN EMPTY MANSION”
“In my Father’s house are many mansions….I go to prepare a place for you” (Jn. 14:2)
INTRO.: A gospel song which centers upon the many mansions that Jesus is preparing in the Father’s house is “An Empty Mansion” (#198 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #392 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Beuna Ora Bryant (Mrs. J. B.) Karnes, who was born on Feb. 8, 1889, in Comanche County, TX, and in 1911, at the age of 22, met and married Jess O’Brian Karnes, who had also been born in 1889. A series of events led up to the production of this song. In 1928, Jess, who was a successful builder in Abilene, TX, lost his lumber yard to a disastrous fire and had no insurance to cover the loss. A few months afterwards, the Great Depression began and their life’s savings were wiped out. By this time, the Bryants had a large family of twelve children, three of which had been born with a genetic disease known as Frederick’s Ataxia, a form of muscular dystrophy, and one of these sons caught pneumonia and died later that year.
The next few years the Karneses struggled to survive. Jess moved the family back to the farm, and they worked at share cropping, picking cotton, or just about anything which would provide food and shelter. Then, in 1937, as the Depression was beginning to end and it appeared that the worst was over, Buena’s father was hit and killed by a drunk driver as he walked along the sidewalk in Mansfield, TX. Three months later, filled with grief, her mother passed away. With all the events of the past few years fresh in her mind, Buena penned a poem beginning, “Here I labor and toil as I look for a home,” which was first published by Stamps-Baxter in their 1939 book Joyful Songs, with a tune (Empty Mansion) composed by Clarence A. Luttrell (1896-1986). Buena remained a housewife until her death in Ft. Worth, TX, on Oct. 7, 1974. After the song’s renewal in 1966 by Luttrell, it was assigned to National Music Co., and then in 1984 to M. Lynwood Smith Pub., but Stamps-Baxter still claims copyright ownership.
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, it has appeared in the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2 and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 both edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1952 Hymns of Praise and Devotion edited by Will W. Slater; the 1959 Majestic Hymnal No. 2 and the 1978 Hymns of Praise both edited by Reuel Lemmons; the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; 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.; the 2012 Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs edited by Steve Wolfgang et. al.; and the 2017 Standard Songs of the Church edited by Michael Andrew Grissom; in addition to Hymns for Worship and Sacred Selections.
The song focuses our attention on things above rather than on things of this earth.
I. The first stanza explains what we are looking for
Here I labor and toil as I look for a home,
Just an humble abode among men,
While in heaven a mansion is waiting for me
And a gentle voice pleading, “Come in.”
- Whatever time we have here upon this earth is filled with labor and toil: Ps. 90:10
- However, God has prepared a place for His people in heaven: 1 Pet. 1:3-5
- And His gentle voice is pleading with us so that we can finally hear Him say, “Enter in”: Matt, 25:21
II. The second stanza explains why we can look for it
Ever thankful am I that my Savior and Lord
Promised unto the weary sweet rest;
Nothing more could I ask than a mansion above,
There to live with saved and the blessed.
- Jesus Christ is our Savior and Lord: Lk. 2:11
- He has promised to the weary sweet rest: Matt. 11:28-30
- Also, He has promised that we can have the hope of living forever with the saved and the blessed if we set our affections on things above: Col. 3:1-2
III. The third stanza explains when we can look for it
When my labor and toiling have ended below
And my hands shall lie folded in rest,
I’ll exchange this old home for a mansion up there
And invite the archangel as guest.
- Our labor and toiling below will end at death: Heb. 9:27
- Those who die in the Lord shall have rest from their labors: Rev. 14:13
- Their final hope is to receive a mansion and live with the angels who surround the throne of God: Rev. 5:11
CONCL.: The chorus points us forward to that mansion which is now empty, just waiting for each of God’s people in the after a while.
There’s a mansion now empty, just waiting for me,
At the end of life’s trouble some way;
Many friends and dear loved ones will welcome me there
Near the door of that mansion someday.
As is usually the case, Ellis Crum of Sacred Selections decided that we won’t have any “friends and dear loved ones” in heaven, so he changed the third line of the chorus to read, “And I know that the Savior will welcome me there,” and Hymns for Worship has followed that alteration. Not many Stamps-Baxter songs found their way into the hymnbooks which L. O. Sanderson edited for the Gospel Advocate Co., but this was one of them, and I can remember singing it quite frequently when growing up in a congregation which used Christian Hymns No. 2. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that while here on earth, we have no continuing city, so we need to remember that what we seek to come is “An Empty Mansion.”