Posted by: rcottrill | January 12, 2011

Take Time to Be Holy

Words: William Dunn Longstaff (b. Nov. 26, 1822; d. Apr. 2, 1894)
Music: George Coles Stebbins (b. Feb. 26, 1846; d. Oct. 6, 1945)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

It takes time to do a job well. It takes time to build meaningful relationships. And it takes time to develop a holy character. Holiness (and related Bible words such as: hallowed, dedicated, sacred, sanctified, and saint) basically means set apart, or separated–usually indicating a separation from sin and unto God, or a separation from common use and commitment to the Lord’s service.

In discussing this subject as it relates to Christians, it is important to distinguish between the holiness of our standing, and the holiness of our state. The two can be roughly compared to being granted official citizenship in a country (standing), and living as a good citizen of the country (state).

When we trust in Christ as Saviour, God sets us apart for Himself. A “saint” is a set-apart one, and all Christians are saints (cf. Phil. 1:1). We are credited with the righteousness of Christ (Rom. 3:21-24; 4:5; II Cor. 5:21; Col. 2:10), and clothed in His righteousness. Our standing is eternal; it does not change, because it’s based on what Christ has done. The Christian’s privileged standing is described in a hymn by Nicolaus von Zinzendorf.

Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
‘Midst flaming worlds in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.

But the hymn by William Longstaff deals not with our eternal standing in Christ, but with our daily conduct. And while our standing remains constant, our state can change from day to day. When we’re saved the Spirit of God clothes us in Christ, as to our standing before God (Gal. 3:26-27). Then, as to our state in daily experience, we have a responsibility to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfil its lusts” (Rom. 13:14; cf. Eph. 4:22-24).

“Consecrate yourselves [commit yourselves to living a holy life] therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. And you shall keep My statutes, and perform them [obey My Word]: I am the LORD who sanctifies you” (Lev. 20:7-8).

It is that holy character of our lives that is developed by the Spirit of God (II Cor. 3:18; Gal. 5:22-23), through our meditation on the Word (Jn. 17:17; Eph. 5:25-26), and through our regular times of fellowship with God in prayer. And that takes a consistent commitment of time!

When Peter and John were brought before the Jewish Sanhedrin to give an account of their ministry for Christ, we are told, “They [the Jewish leaders] realized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). That likely means simply that they identified them as followers of Christ. But whatever was meant, it is also a fine description of what our lives should be like. Others should be able to tell, by our words and actions, that we have spent time in the Lord’s presence.

Sometimes, service leaders, in introducing the hymn Take Time to Be Holy, will invite the congregation to sing one or more stanzas as “Take time to behold Him.” And while I wouldn’t advocate that we totally do away with the phrasing of the original, this does help to focus our attention on the means by which practical holiness of life is developed. Notice how the opening stanzas of the hymn (CH-1 and CH-2) emphasize the time factor: “speak oft with thy Lord…spend much time in secret with Jesus alone.”

1) What is the general conception of “holiness” in the unsaved world? And how does this contrast with what the Bible means by it?

2) What is meant by “make no provision for the flesh” (Rom. 13:14)? How is that done in practical terms?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. I remember one young seminarian mocking this song, because of its association with the Keswick/Higher Life Movement. Since when is it unbiblical, or unspiritual to seek a life of consecration and holiness through prayer, reading the Word, of fellowship with God’s people and helping those who are weak? Sounds pretty Scriptural to us. And holiness is not only something we are designated–it is something that we are called to pursue. “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb 12:24). How thankful we are that “Jesus blood and righteousness” are our glorious dress; and that we can keep our garments white by continually purging ourselves of sin in holiness of heart and life! Thank you for covering this hymn, Robert!

    • Thanks for these comments. And I agree. I’m not “Keswick” in doctrine, but that certainly doesn’t mean I disagree with these folk on everything. Their warmth of devotion to Christ blesses my heart. A few years ago, I led a community Bible Study which was attended by individuals from several different denominations. We disagreed on some things, but never argued over them. We came together because of our common love for the Lord Jesus, and our desire to study the Word of God. We discussed the Scriptures and sang and prayed together, and those times were a wonderful blessing.


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