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Words: Frances Jane (“Fanny”) Crosby (b. Mar. 24, 1820; d. Feb. 12, 1915)
Music: William Howard Doane (b. Feb. 3, 1832; d. Dec. 23, 1915)
Note: The text for this gospel song was written in 1869. Doane composed the tune for it a couple of years later. The repeated phrase, “toiling on” may be somewhat off-putting to the modern congregation. The dictionary describes it as continuous, hard, exhausting work. But Fanny knew her Bible.
The word is found 19 times in the Word of God (KJV). It is used of the painful labour and hardship Adam faced after the fall–a part of the curse upon creation (Gen. 3:17). Paul uses it of the painful and distressing hardship he faced in his service for Christ (II Cor. 11:27), and of the secular job he sometimes worked at the support himself, while ministering (I Thess. 2:9; II Thess. 3:8). Not all Christian service is “toil,” but some definitely is.
The story’s told of a young man who was asked about his employment. “What do you do?” said the questioner. “Oh, this and that,” he replied. Dissatisfied, the inquirer tried again, “And where do you do this?” The fellow said, “Uh, here and there.” “Well, when do you do it?” persisted his friend, and he responded, with a yawn, “Now and then.”
Whether the story is true or not, it illustrates an unmotivated, unfocused life. As the saying goes, “Aim at nothing and you are likely to hit it!” In contrast, think of the Olympic athlete. If he has prepared for the hundred metre race, the contest will be over in about ten seconds. But behind it are years of intensive training, practice, and competition in other track meets.
Not only that, the athlete’s values and priorities are adjusted carefully so he can focus on his goal of winning gold at the Olympics. What he eats, how long he sleeps, what he wears on his feet, and more are scrutinized. Many pleasures that others enjoy may be set aside, in order to centre his attention on winning the prize.
But that raises questions about our spiritual commitment. Is it casual and careless? Are we merely “Sunday-go-to-meetin’” Christians, who put on our religion temporarily, like our Sunday best, then live as we please the rest of the time? The Christian life is not a once-weekly performance, but a pervasive lifestyle, one that we live out every day of the week.
Notice how inclusive our walk with Christ is to be. The Bible says, “You were bought at a price [the blood of Christ]; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (I Cor. 6:20). “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31). “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men (Col. 3:23).
Of the work of the apostles we read, “Daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:42). Paul speaks of, “What comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches” (II Cor. 11:28). And of the Berean Christians, concerning their diligent study of the Word of God, we’re told: “They received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).
All we are and have, all we do, daily, that is part of Christian living. Anything less is unworthy of the Master we claim to serve. The Lord Jesus suffered and died on the cross to pay the debt of sin we owe. “To this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps” (I Pet. 2:21). “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mk. 10:45).
The blind hymn writer Fanny Crosby has given us dozens of wonderful songs. One that is perhaps lesser known is To the Work. In it, she challenges Christians to stay focused, and keep busy for the Lord. The song says:
CH-1) To the work! To the work! We are servants of God;
Let us follow the path that our Master has trod;
With the balm of His counsel our strength to renew,
Let us do with our might what our hands find to do.
Toiling on, toiling on, toiling on, toiling on,
Let us hope and trust, let us watch and pray,
And labour till the Master comes.
CH-2) To the work! To the work! Let the hungry be fed;
To the fountain of life let the weary be led;
In the cross and its banner our glory shall be,
While we herald the tidings, “Salvation is free!”
Motivated by the sacrifice and dedication of our Saviour, empowered by the Spirit of God, and directed by the Word of God, let’s stay focused on the life and service to which He has called us. There is a day of blessed reward yet to come.
CH-4) To the work! To the work! In the strength of the Lord,
And a robe and a crown shall our labour reward,
When the home of the faithful our dwelling shall be,
And we shout with the ransomed, “Salvation is free!”
1) In the past weeks and months, what aspect of your service for the Lord has been “toil” (very hard work)?
2) How did you find the motivation and strength to continue?