Who Wrote the Hymn 'Take Time to be Holy'?

"Take Time to Be Holy" is a wonderful hymn with a surprising story or two behind it, and an important message we still need to remember today.

Salem Web Network Contributor
Updated Dec 07, 2022
Who Wrote the Hymn 'Take Time to be Holy'?

When an individual decides to follow Christ, their belief system changes. There comes a realization that there is a higher calling, a command, to separate themselves from the world’s belief system and choose to be obedient to Christ. It means developing a biblical worldview based upon the Scriptures. Christ-followers are to be holy because Christ is holy. The word means to be “set apart.”

Holiness is not something that occurs instantly. It is a life-long process that comes through reading and studying the Scriptures. Holiness comes through surrendering your will to God’s will and being obedient. Charles F. Stanley put it this way:

“It takes a godly, deliberate, Spirit-filled walk to honor God and glorify Him. This does not mean we adopt a dour, grim-faced determination to do the pious, religious rituals that drain all enjoyment out of life. Rather, we live out the holiness that Christ has given us by obeying Him and imitating His ways.” – The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NKJV

That statement is what William Dunn Longstaff conveyed so well in his poem, “Take Time to be Holy.”

Who Was William Dunn Longstaff?

Durham, England, is the birthplace of William Longstaff. Born on January 28, 1822, he was the son of a wealthy ship owner and became a financially successful businessman. When he was 38, he married Joice Burlinson, who was 33. Together they had seven children: William, Hannah, Rhoda, Amelia, Earnest, Nora, and Marnia. Some researchers state they had eight children, the last child a daughter named Minnie. His wife, Joice, sadly died in 1881, leaving him a widow with six children still at home. Longstaff died on April 2, 1894.

Being financially independent, Longstaff could give generously to various needs. C. Michael Hawn details several instances where Longstaff gave much-needed money to ministers or ministries in need. When Longstaff’s friend Arthur A. Rees left the Anglican Church, Longstaff served as treasurer and building supervisor for Rees’ new church, the Bethesda Free Chapel. In 1873, Longstaff learned that D.L. Moody (1837-1899) and Ira Sankey (1840-1908) were in England with minimal finances planning to hold evangelistic meetings, but their sponsors had passed before Moddy and Sankey arrived. Longstaff established a donor base that allowed Moody to hold revivals held in London and several locations in Scotland. Longstaff was also friends with Salvation Army founder William Booth (1829-1912) and had several hymns published in the Salvation Army magazine The War Cry.

What Is the Story Behind Take Time to Be Holy?

Two theories have surfaced regarding the inspiration behind the hymn “Take Time to Be Holy.” One story is that William heard a sermon in New Brighton on the Scripture passage from 1 Peter 1:16, “It is written, “Be Holy, for I am holy.”

The other story is shared by George Coles Stebbins (1846-1945). He stated that William Longstaff heard missionary Griffith John from China give a sermon. The missionary made the statement, “Take time to be holy.” Those words and the Scripture text became the basis for Longstaff’s poem that evening.

By some reports, the poem became a part of a collection of hymns and poems that George C. Stebbins (1846-1945) kept in a notebook. In 1890, Stebbins was in India working with evangelist George Pentecost when someone mentioned a hymn about holiness was needed. Stebbins went through his notebook, pulled “Take Time to be Holy,” composed the music, and later sent it to Ira Sankey in New York to be published. Sankey added it to the hymnal New Songs and Sacred Solos (1888).

However, further research shows that the poem was printed earlier, around 1882, in The Hymns of Consecration and was used at the Keswick meetings. Today the hymn is a favorite found in numerous denominational hymnals.

What Are the Lyrics to Take Time to Be Holy?

Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord;

Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word.

Make friends of God’s children, help those who are weak,

Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.

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.

Take time to be holy, let Him be thy Guide;

And run not before Him, whatever betide.

In joy or in sorrow, still follow the Lord,

And, looking to Jesus, still trust in His Word.

Take time to be holy, be calm in thy soul,

Each thought and each motive beneath His control.

Thus led by His Spirit to fountains of love,

Thou soon shalt be fitted for service above.

You can here a rendition of the hymn here:

Take Time To Be Holy from bcbcsecretary on GodTube.

You can find the sheet music for “Take Time to be Holy” here.

The Theology Behind Take Time to be Holy 

It has been said that there should be a hymn book next to an individual’s copy of the Bible. The reason why? It’s because of the theology found in hymns. Also, the poem is easier to memorize when music is composed for the words.

What theological truths can we glean from “Take Time to be Holy?” First, the entire hymn is an invitation to come and spend time with the Lord. In the second line, Longstaff writes about the importance of abiding in the Word (John 15:1-8; 1 John 1-5).

The hymn talks about the need to be alone with Jesus. The more time we spend in His Word, the more “like Him thou shalt be.” He promises when we seek Him, we will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13). When we draw close to Him, He promises to draw near to us (James 2:8a).

There is the assurance that Jesus will guide us (Proverbs 3:5-6). It is our responsibility to follow and trust. What are the rewards of “Taking Time to be Holy?” Longstaff writes about the fellowship of His presence, His love is like a fountain, He brings a calmness to the soul, and He fits us for service. There is encouragement that “in joy or in sorrow still follow thy Lord,” meaning keep persevering.

Are There Bible Verses in Take Time to Be Holy?

If the first story about Longstaff’s information is correct, then the inspiration for the poem was from 1 Peter 1:16. This passage contains the quote, “be holy as I am holy,” which takes us back to Leviticus 11:44.

While Longstaff doesn’t directly quote any Bible verses in the poem, its words describe a Christ-follower’s life and dependence upon God.

Other hymns about holiness paraphrase or reference several popular Bible verses, especially Leviticus 19:2 and 20:7, Revelation 4:8 and 15:4.

5 Hymns Similar to Take Time to Be Holy

These hymns convey similar ideas to “Take Time to Be Holy” and are equally worth exploring.

1. “Holy is the Lord” lyrics by Charles W. Naylor, music by Barney E. Warren 

2. “Holiness,” lyrics by Barney W. Warren, music by Clarence E. Hunter

3. “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty,” lyrics by Reginald Heber with music by John B. Dykes.

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty from altonpaul2 on GodTube.

4. “Holy, Holy,” lyrics and music by Jimmy Owens.

5. “Holy is He,” lyrics by Claire Cloninger, music by David T. Clydesdale;

Further Reading:

10 Hymns of Praise: Glorify God with Joy and Gratitude

10 Classic Hymns about Heaven

What Is the Purpose of Singing Hymns?

Top 10 Hymns about Faith to Trust God Through Adversity

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Sonja Filitz

Laura Lee Leathers is a writer and speaker. Imagine Lois Lane, over sixty-five, and living on a farm. Her metropolis is the area of freelance writing. Her primary love interest is the Word of God. She digs for information, interviews fascinating people, offers a cup of biblical hospitalit-tea, encourages, and helps others with the ‘how-to’s’ of life. To sign up for her newsletter, connect with her at http://lauraleeleathers.com - - - “Helping You Flourish in Faith & Finish Well by His Word”


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