Hymn History: “Must I Go, and Empty-Handed?”

2 min

Leaning forward so as not to miss a single word, Reverend Charles Luther listened intently. The visiting evangelist shared about a dying young man’s confession. In Christian service only a month before his death, the young man’s last words had been a lament: “No, I am not afraid; Jesus saves me now. But oh! must I go, and empty-handed?” 

The dying man knew he would have joy in Jesus’ presence, and yet he also was sorrowful because he had not led others to Jesus. Inspired by the heartbreaking testimony, Reverend Luther wrote a poem that considered the sadness of meeting Jesus empty-handed. 

Not at death I shrink nor falter,
For my Savior saves me now;
But to meet Him empty-handed,
Tho’t of that now clouds my brow.

Once the poem was completed, Reverend Luther gave it to George C. Stebbins, an American Gospel hymn writer and composer. Mr. Stebbins composed music for the words, and the poem became the hymn titled “Must I Go, and Empty-Handed?” 

The story does not end there! About fifteen years later, a reckless, sinful man stumbled upon a city mission meeting in England. While others were singing the third verse of this hymn, the man was convicted as he heard these words: 

O the years in sinning wasted,
Could I but recall them now,
I would give them to my Savior,
To His will I’d gladly bow.

The man went home miserable, so distressed that he could not eat. That afternoon, he was out and happened to pass by a workers’ Bible meeting. Entering the room, he was bewildered to hear being sung the very same hymn that had convicted him that morning! Falling to his knees, he surrendered his life to Christ. Truly changed, his transformed life demonstrated a desire to waste no more years in sin but to follow Christ! 

Initiative is “recognizing and doing what needs to be done before I am asked to do it.” The young man who bemoaned his lack of initiative in soul-winning died, unaware that his confession would impact another believer. Reverend Luther took initiative to write a hymn that would inspire others to witness for Christ before it is too late. The dying man’s testimony was used by God to directly encourage other believers to take initiative to bring unbelievers to Christ! 

O ye saints, arouse, be earnest,
Up and work while yet ’tis day;
Ere the night of death o’er-take thee,
Strive for souls while still ye may.

We will not always have the opportunity to tell others the Gospel. Whom can you tell about Jesus? Remember the young man’s painful regret and take initiative now—before it is too late!

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