Posted by: rcottrill | May 13, 2011

Must I Go and Empty Handed?

Words: Charles Carroll Luther (b. May 17, 1847; d. Nov. 4, 1924)
Music: George Coles Stebbins (b. Feb. 26, 1846; d. Oct. 6, 1945)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The incident behind this gospel song explains its meaning. You can read about it on both the Wordwise Hymns and Cyber Hymnal links.

Years ago my parents had friends we visited quite often. On one occasion when we did so, my mother took along a pie or cake she’d baked, and waited with her hands full for someone to open the door. When Bud did so, he said with a grin, “We’re always happy to welcome folks who open the door with their elbows!”–meaning, with their hands full of things they’ve brought us.

That little incident has remained with me for about 60 years. It represents the way in which we can encourage and bless our friends with unexpected gifts, tokens of our appreciation for them. That is also the way in which monarchs have been honoured, down through the centuries. When an individual visits a ruler, or when the ruler comes calling, it is traditional to present some gift as a token of fealty and respect. (I’m sure Queen Elizabeth must have rooms full of gifts received from loyal citizens of her realm, and from foreign dignitaries too.)

We can see an example of this following the birth of Christ. Wise men came from the East (probably Persia) to worship the newborn King. They brought with them gifts which were presented to Him (Matt. 2:1-11). It was a tribute, an expression of their loyalty to the King, and of their desire to honour Him.

Something similar will occur when the church is caught up to be with Christ. The Lord desires believers to bear fruit in their lives. Both the inward fruit of Christian character (Gal. 5:22-23), and the outward fruit of Christian service–lives that are changed through our witness (Rom. 1:13; cf. Jn. 15:16). Wouldn’t it be wonderful, in that day, to be in the company of those God has saved through our ministry. The Apostle Paul thought so. He says, “What is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming. For you are our glory and joy” (I Thess. 2:19-20).

But what if, as was the case with the man who inspired our hymn, we have nothing like that to bring before the Lord. He had only been saved about a month when a serious accident claimed his life. His dying regret was for the wasted years of his life, and for his lack of the fruit of Christian service to offer to the Lord.

“Must I go, and empty handed,”
Thus my dear Redeemer meet?
Not one day of service give Him,
Lay no trophy at His feet?

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

Charles Luther, the author of the hymn, then draws a penetrating (and perhaps convicting!) lesson. What have we done with the days and years the Lord has granted us? What will we do with those that remain, however many they be? It is so easy to sacrifice the best use of our gifts to something of lesser worth. What will we offer to the Lord when we stand before Him? Things of no lasting value, symbolized by “wood, hay, [and] straw”? Or things of eternal worth, pictured as “gold, silver [and] precious stones” (I Cor. 3:11-15)?

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

1) What kinds of things might the Lord look upon as wood, hay, and straw, in terms of eternal reward? And what might gold, silver and precious stones represent?

2) What does it mean to “strive for souls”?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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