Article

History of Hymns: “Take My Life, and Let It Be Consecrated”

by C. Michael Hawn

"Take My Life, and Let It Be Consecrated"
Frances Havergal
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 399

Frances Havergal

Take my life, and let it be
consecrated, Lord, to thee.
Take my moments and my days,
let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Take my hands, and let them move
at the impulse of thy love.
Take my feet, and let them be,
swift and beautiful for thee.


Frances Ridely Havergal (1836-1879) has provided us with one of the classic hymns of Christian commitment. 

Known as the "consecration poet," Havergal attempted to live a life fully consecrated to Christ and to those she saw in any physical or spiritual need. 

We know that Havergal's spiritual journey began early in her life, memorizing passages in the Bible at age 4 and writing verse by age seven. She was nurtured by her father, an Anglican clergyman, also devoted to Christian hymnody. 

Though Havergal's health was frail and she lived barely 43 years, she learned several modern languages as well as Hebrew and Greek. She was also a singer of some note and known as an accomplished pianist. 

We have an account in her own words concerning the composition of "Take My Life" in 1874: 

"I went for a little visit of five days [to Areley House]. There were ten persons in the house, some unconverted and long prayed for, some converted, but not rejoicing Christians. He gave me the prayer, "Lord, give me all in this house!" And He just did. Before I left the house every one had got a blessing. The last night of my visit after I had retired, the governess asked me to go to the two daughters. They were crying, etc.; then and there both of them trusted and rejoiced; it was nearly midnight. I was too happy to sleep, and passed most of the night in praise and renewal of my own consecration; and these little couplets formed themselves, and chimed in my heart one after another till they finished with 'Ever, Only, ALL for Thee!'" 

This hymn of total consecration to Christ seems to cover every aspect of surrender to him. The original text appears originally in six 4-line stanzas. In The United Methodist Hymnal, two stanzas are combined to produce three longer ones. Each line begins with the imperative verb "Take," giving the sense of an incessant prayer of petition. 

Many musical settings of this hymn are in common usage. In some, the last line is repeated, increasing the time that the singer has to reflect upon the commitment he or she is making. 

The hymn appeared first in Charles Snepp's Songs of Grace and Glory (1876) under the heading "2 Sam. 19:30. 'Yes, let Him take all,'" according to the late Methodist hymnologist and Southern Methodist University seminary professor Fred Gealy. 

Each stanza explores more deeply what it means to surrender to Christ. The first stanza consecrates the singer's life and moments, as well as physical body -- hands and feet. 

The second stanza may be somewhat autobiographical in light of Havergal's vocal abilities, consecrating her voice and lips. The stanza continues with personal possessions, silver and gold, as well as intellect. 

The final stanza explores those personal attributes at the very core of one's being -- will, heart, love and self. 

Often used in congregations during the stewardship emphasis, Havergal lived what she preached in her hymns. In 1878 she wrote to a friend, "The Lord has shown me another little step, and, of course, I have taken it with extreme delight. 'Take my silver and my gold' now means shipping off all my ornaments to the church Missionary House, including a jewel cabinet that is really fit for a countess, where all will be accepted and disposed of for me. . . . I don't think I ever packed a box with such pleasure."
 

Dr. Hawn is director of the sacred music program at Perkins School of Theology.
 

Categories: History of Hymns