This hymn is a good example of the Lord making more of our work than we could have expected.
The man who wrote the words to “Take Time to Be Holy” was neither a pastor nor a songwriter. William Longstaff was an English businessman —a Christian layman who took his faith seriously.
Hearing a sermon on the text, “Be ye holy, for I am holy,” Longstaff was inspired to write a poem, “Take Time to Be Holy.” Being a good businessman, Longstaff had a practical mind. That is reflected in this hymn, which offers many practical suggestions for becoming holy.
— He says, “Take time to be holy,” which reflects his understanding that holiness, like every virtue, requires time and attention to develop it.
— He says, “Speak oft with the Lord,” reflecting his personal experience that prayer deepens faith.
— He says, “Take time to be holy, Be calm in your soul; Each thought and each motive, Beneath His control,” telling us that we can face adversity calmly if we look to Christ for guidance.
Longstaff managed to get his poem published in a Christian newspaper, but that was the end of it—or so it seemed. But as it turned out, George Stebbins, a Christian musician, had seen the poem and had clipped and filed it. Years later, needing a hymn on the subject of holy living, he remembered the poem and set it to music. It has been a favorite now for more than a century.
I don’t know whether Longstaff ever knew that Stebbins had set his poem to music. I don’t know that he ever heard it sung. I know only that he felt called to write the poem—and that God did the rest. When we do something good—something for God—we might never know the full measure of good that we have accomplished. We can only know that God will take what we offer, great or small, and make of it a treasure.
— Copyright 2006, Richard Niell Donovan