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Music: George C. Stebbins, 1890
Lyrics: William Longstaff, ca. 1882

William Longstaff was a successful English businessman who reportedly penned this hymn after hearing a sermon focused on 1 Peter 1:16: “…YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” Known as a pragmatist, the poem he wrote contains many examples of practical ways in which a believer can seek to be holy. The words, written as a poem initially, were passed on to George Stebbins, who put them to music sometime between 1888 and 1890.

Stanza 1

Take time to be holy,
Speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide in Him always
And feed on His Word.
Make friends with God’s children,
Help those who are weak;
Forgetting in nothing
His blessing to seek.

Reflective Thoughts: This first verse is filled with wisdom that echoes admonitions given to us in the Bible. It is rich with practical reminders of how we can seek to be holy:

  • Do you take time to be holy by frequently spending time in prayer? Scripture bids us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess.5:17), and in prayer is where we acknowledge our dependence on God for all things, including holy living.
  • Do you abide in Christ, as Jesus bids us to do that we might bear fruit and therefore glorify God the Father? (cf. John 15:4, 8)
  • Do you feed on the Bible? Recall what Psalm 119 tells us: “How can a man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word” (v.9). To keep God’s Word we must know it, and to know it, we must study it and meditate on it.
  • Are you friends with God’s children? Do you pray for one another, as James bids us to do?
  • Do you help those who are weak, seeking to encourage and build up each other? (Cf. 1 Thess.5:11)
  • In doing all these things, do you seek as your motivation to please your heavenly Father, or are you seeking either favor with God through your own merit or approval in the eyes of men?

Stanza 2

Take time to be holy,
The world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret
With Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus,
Like Him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct
His likeness shall see.

Reflective Thoughts: In this verse, the author reminds us that we must actively pursue holiness, as the “world rushes on.” It reiterates the importance of prayer, specifically spending time in private communion with God. It is here where we can confess our lack of holiness and find grace. It is here where we receive strength and refreshment to strive anew to be holy. The hymn writer urges us to fix our eyes on Christ. Hebrews urges us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb.12:2-3). When we consider the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf, how can we not strive to be holy? And as we seek to live by His truth in His strength and empowered by His Spirit living in us, we will reflect His glory to those around us.

Stanza 3

Take time to be holy,
Let Him be thy Guide,
And run not before Him,
Whatever betide.
In joy or in sorrow,
Still follow thy Lord;
And looking to Jesus,
Still trust in His Word.

Reflective Thoughts: This verse warns us of seeking to overcome hardship in our own strength. How tempting it is to “run..before Him,” trying to fix the problem rather than seeking to be obedient and enduring a trial with patience, trusting in God’s providence and in His perfect will and promise to sanctify us through trials and hardship. In times of joy (and especially financial prosperity), how easy it can be to forget God (cf. Prov.30) and forsake Him as our Guide. It is so important for us to remember that God’s Word is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim.3:16) in every circumstance and season of life we experience.

Stanza 4

Take time to be holy,
Be calm in thy soul
Each tho’t and each motive
Beneath His control.
Thus led by His Spirit
To fountains of love,
Thou soon shall be fitted
For service above.

Reflective Thoughts: How convicting this verse is to me! A life controlled by the Spirit of Christ is characterized by self-control, a fruit of the Spirit. It is not a soul tossed to and fro and carried away by changing circumstances. It is a soul that takes thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor.10:5), and one whose very motivations are controlled by God. Lord, I look forward to the day when I am glorified and am able to be free from the presence of sin, perfectly holy and fit to be in my eternal, heavenly home to offer unending praise to you.