Watch and Pray


“Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is” (Mk. 13:33)

     INTRO.: A song which encourages us to take heed because we do not know when the time of the Lord’s coming will be is “Watch and Pray” (#630 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #31 in Sacred Selections for the Church).  The text of stanzas 1 through 3 was written and the tune was composed both by Elbert L. Bailey.  Very little data is available on Bailey, except that he also produced two other songs, “I can see my precious mother” and “Since in the days of Adam and Eve.”  There was an Elbert L Bailey who was born in 1848 in Yancy County, NC, the son of Jesse Bailey and Matilda Emilia “Millie” (Curtis) Bailey, the brother of Elizabeth, James, and Flora Ann, who was the husband of Hannah E. Bailey, who died on Sept. 20, 1891, and who was buried in Cecil-Fry Cemetery, Pennington Gap, Lee County, Virginia.

Another Elbert L. Bailey was born on Aug. 4, 1877, died in Dec., 1916, and was buried in Mount Olive Cemetery at Bolivar, Polk County, Missouri.   Yet another Elbert L. Bailey, known as “Bert,” was born on January 3, 1917, in Bolivar, MO, the youngest of seven children, lived in Lancaster, SC, and Cedar Hill, MO, and died at the age of 87 on December 1, 2004.  It is possible that the third one just might have been the son of the second, since both are connected with Bolivar, MO, but given the fact that the usual date identified for the song “Watch and Pray” is 1927, none of the three seems to be a likely candidate for authorship.

If the date of 1927 is correct for “Watch and Pray,” the song most likely first appeared in either of two books. They are Cornelius’ Gospel Songs edited by Rufus H. Cornelius for R. H. Cornelius Music Book Publisher in Ft. Worth, TX, or Home Gospel Songs No. 2 edited by John Wesley Dennis and H. A. Gilbert for Tipton Orphans’ Home in Tipton, OK.  Both contained the song and were published in 1927.  In 1934, the final stanza was added and perhaps some other arranging was done by William Washington (“Will”) Slater (1885-1959).

Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, the song has appeared in the 1938 Spiritual Melodies edited by Tillit S. Teddlie; 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 1971 Songs of the Church 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 edited by Robert J. Taylor Jr.;  and the 2012 Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs edited by Steve Wolfgang et. al.; as well as Hymns for Worship and Sacred Selections.

The song exhorts us to be looking forward to the Lord’s return.

I. Stanza 1 affirms that Jesus is coming again

Watch and pray, for the Lord is coming,

Coming in the clouds some day;

Wash your robes in the cleansing fountain,

Watch, oh, watch and pray.

  1. Jesus promised that He will return: Jn. 14:1-3
  2. He will come in the clouds as the angels said: Acts 1:9-11
  3. Therefore, we need to have our robes washed: Rev. 7:13-14

II. Stanza 2 reminds us that we do not know when He is coming

He may come in the early morning,
He may come at close of day;

Watch and pray, in His promise trusting,

Watch, oh, watch and pray.

  1. Christ may come in the early morning—the time is not revealed: Matt. 24:36, 42, 44
  2. Or He may come at close of day, like a thief: 1 Thess. 5:3-5
  3. We must simply trust His promise and be looking for Him: 2 Pet. 3:10-14

III. Stanza 3 warns us to be prepared for His coming (not in HFWR)

Soul, give heed to the Savior’s warning,

And His blessed word obey;

Be prepared, when He comes, to meet Him,

Watch, oh, watch and pray.

  1. We need to heed the Savior’s warning: Matt. 7:21-23
  2. This will lead to obeying His blessed word: Rom. 6:17-18
  3. In this way we shall be prepared to meet Him: 1 Thess. 1:9-10

IV. Stanza 4 identifies the results of His coming

When He comes He’ll reward the faithful,

What a glorious day ’twill be;

Joy awaits those who have made ready,

Watch, oh, watch and pray.

  1. When He comes He’ll reward the faithful: Matt. 25:20-21
  2. That will truly be a glorious day: Matt. 25:31-34
  3. Joy awaits those who have made ready because all things that interfere with joy will be removed: Rev. 21:1-3

CONCL.:  The chorus tells us to be ready for heaven when He comes

Watch and pray, watch and pray,

For we know not the hour when the Lord shall come;

Watch and pray, watch and pray,

And be ready to enter the soul’s bright home.

Several years ago, right after I started posting hymn studies online, I received an e-mail from someone who said that he or she was a relative of hymn writer Elbert Bailey and asked if would like more information about him. Unfortunately, I lost that message in a computer crash and was unable to contact the person again.  We may not know much about Bailey, but he left us a song that has been very useful in helping us to await the Lord’s return by admonishing us to “Watch and Pray.”

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