Words: Daniel Webster Whittle (b. Nov. 22, 1840; d. Mar. 4, 1901)
Music: C. C. Williams (? – 1882)
Note: Major Whittle adapted the text for this song from an anonymous poem. I could find nothing as to the identity of Williams.
When many see the title and words of this hymn, they are no doubt reminded of the arrival of Mary and Joseph at Bethlehem, where “there was no room for them in the inn.” For this reason, Jesus was probably born in a stable. (No “stable” is mentioned, but we know His first cradle was a manger, Lk. 2:7).
We hear the innkeeper faulted for making no room for Jesus. But he had no way of knowing, apart from a divine revelation, who was to be born that night. His inn was likely overcrowded, because of the census (Lk. 2:1, 3), and Mary and Joseph may have arrived late, traveling more slowly because of her condition. Actually, it could be the busy man showed great kindness to them by offering warm shelter in the stable.
The song, of course, is using the expression in a metaphorical sense, appealing to us to make room for Christ in our lives. “No room!” so many cry. Either by open rebellion, or by passive neglect, they make no room for the Lord. “He came to His own [His own creation], and His own [even His own people, the Jews] did not receive Him” (Jn. 1:11). And still today, by many, “He is despised and rejected” (Isa. 53:3).
In The Romance of Sacred Song, David Beattie records a touching incident related to this hymn. In the early part of the twentieth century, a group of Christians was holding an open air meeting in the city of London. In the course of their presentation, they sang Major Whittle’s song, and reached stanza CH-2:
Room for pleasure, room for business,
But for Christ the Crucified,
Not a place that He can enter,
In the heart for which He died?
At that moment, two men were walking past. They were on their way to fly some pigeons (I guess in a homing pigeon race). Bill was struck by the words. “That’s me,” he said to his friend Jack. “Room for pleasure, room for business, but no room for Christ. You can fly the pigeons if you like, but I’m not going.” He returned home, left his birds, and headed back to the street meeting.
His wife, startled by his soon return, and his sudden change of mood, followed after him to see what had so affected him. The couple came to a little chapel, where the team had gone to continue their gospel meeting, and they sat down to listen. That night, both husband and wife trusted Christ as Saviour. One who knew them commented later, “That home today is one of the brightest in the great city of London.”
Stanza CH-1 and the refrain of the hymn alludes to a passage in the book of Revelation, where the Lord Jesus declares, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him [i.e. fellowship with him], and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20). The text is sometimes used as a salvation verse. But in the context it refers to a wealthy and spiritually lukewarm church that had shut Christ out (vs. 14-19).
Sinners, who are in danger of eternal condemnation, need to repent and turn to Christ in faith, opening their lives to His energizing presence. But it is possible, even for Christians, and local churches, to get so busy, and fill their lives with so many things (perhaps some perfectly good things, in themselves) and leave no room for a vital fellowship with the Lord.
1) What do you see in your own life, or in the life of your church, that carries the danger of crowding out heart-to-heart fellowship with the Lord?
2) What can we do to make more room for Christ, and keep things that way?