“Must I go, and empty handed,”
Thus my dear Redeemer meet?
Not one day of service give Him,
Lay no trophy at His feet?
“Must I go, and empty handed?”
Must I meet my Savior so?
Not one soul with which to greet Him,
Must I empty handed go?
Not at death I shrink or falter,
For my Savior saves me now;
But to meet Him empty handed,
Thought of that now clouds my brow.
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.
O ye saints, arouse, be earnest,
Up and work while yet ’tis day;
Ere the night of death o’er take thee,
Strived for souls while still you may.
Charles Carroll Luther wrote this hymn in 1877. I first heard this hymn while in high school when my late friend Ray Munsaka sung it in Tonga and the words and tune have never left my heart since then. My wife Enid does the Luhya version and I am content with the English version. The story behind this hymn is short but remarkable. It is a lovely hymn that speaks of our service for God. I have sung this hymn since I was young and it has always been a reminder that I should serve the Lord while I have breath.
Charles Carroll Luther was a journalist and lay evangelist before being ordained as a Baptist minister in 1886. Though not a prolific composer, he authored this hymn in 1877 when he heard a Rev. A.G. Upham relate the story of a young man who was about to die. This young man had been a Christian for only one month. Though thankful to the Lord for granting him salvation during his final hour, he was nevertheless grieved that he’d had no opportunity to serve the Lord nor to share Him with others. He explained, “I am not afraid to die; Jesus saves me now. But must I go empty handed?” Upon hearing this account, Luther wrote this hymn.
The tune is also very beautiful. Charles Luther handed his lyrics to George C. Stebbins who did a wonderful job conveying the heart’s cry of this lovely hymn. “Must I Go, And Empty Handed?”
Thankfully, many Christians have come to know the Lord at an earlier and more opportune time than this young man. At death’s advent, may we be spared from sharing his lament. Sadly, because of the anxieties of this age and the deceitfulness of riches (Matt. 13:22), many dear Christians are stupefied by the lure of the world and consequently languish in their personal walk with Christ. This explains the prevailing state of spiritual barrenness among many of today’s Christians. Let us heed this hymn’s counsel to stop wasting our years in sin and instead to give them to our Savior, to strive for the salvation of souls while we still have breath. May we pray to be spiritually energized to take up the burden of sharing the gospel, so that rather than living a life of vanity to later be regretted, we may redeem our time (Eph. 5:16) and bear fruit unto eternal life (John 4:36).
I worry that in our effort to save some of our traditions, we may very well meet the Savior with “not one soul with which to greet Him”. Oh that God would give us wisdom to know what to preserve as necessary, and what to discard as distracting. The message of Jesus Christ and His salvation must never be second to anything. I will not be satisfied to one day meet the master having merely preserved what He gave me to work with. I want to be like the “good and faithful servant” who took what the Master gave him, invested wisely, and had a great return.