Wayne S. Walker

“I made haste, and delayed not to keep Thy commandments” (Ps. 119:60)

INTRO.: A song which encourages sinners to make haste and delay not to keep God’s commandments that they might be saved is “Why Do You Wait?” (#304 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #623 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written and the tune (Sheffield) was composed both by George Frederick Root, who was born at Sheffield, MA, on Aug. 30, 1820. At the age of nineteen he became associated with A. N. Johnson, a Boston, MA, music teacher, and was his assistant music director at the historic Park St. Church in Boston. In 1841, Root became assistant music teacher in Boston city schools with hymn tune composer Lowell Mason (1792-1872). Three years later, he moved to New York City, NY, where he taught music at Abbott’s School for Young Ladies, Rutgers Female Institute, Union Theological Seminary, and the New York Institute for the Blind, where one of the students was Fanny Crosby (1820-1915). In 1850, he spent a year studying music in Paris.

On his return to this country, Root composed a cantata, with libretto by Fanny Crosby. Under the pseudonym, “G. Friedrich Wurzel,” he wrote a number of minstrel songs for E. P. Christy and his troupe, the most popular of which were “Hazel Dell” and “Rosalie, the Prairie Flower.” Also he helped to found the New York Musical Institute in 1853. In 1858, he moved to Chicago, IL, and became associated with the firm of Root and Cady, founded by his brother, E. T. Root, and C. M. Cady. However, because of losses incurred in the Chicago fire of 1871, the firm was dissolved, and he became associated with the John Church Company of Cincinnati, OH, but maintained his residence in Chicago. In 1872 the University of Chicago awarded him with the Doctor of Music degree. Some of his popular melodies include “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, the Boys Are Marching” and “Just Before the Battle, Mother,” both of which were sung during the Civil War.

Having produced several hundred songs, Root was also involved with the publication of about 75 gospel song collections, including the Diapason and The Shawm with William Batchelder Bradbury (1816-1868). Perhaps Root’s most famous gospel song is “Come to the Savior, Make No Delay,” which was included in his book The Prize, published in 1870 by Root and Cady in Chicago. “Why Do You Wait?” first appeared in 1878 in Gospel Hymns No. 3, edited by Ira David Sankey (1840-1908). In addition, Root provided melodies for several other gospel songs, such as “When He Cometh” and “Ring the Bells of Heaven,” both with lyrics by William Orcutt Cushing (1823-1902). Also, Root composed a tune (Varina) which is commonly associated with Isaac Watts’s hymn “There Is a Land of Pure Delight” and has been used in some of our books. One of America’s most influential nineteenth century musicians, he died at Bailey’s Island, ME, on Aug. 6, 1895.

Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, “Why Do You Wait?” has appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 both edited by Elmer L. Jorgenson; the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1), the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2, and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3, all edited by Lloyd O. Sanderson; the 1959 Majestic Hymnal No. 2 and the 1978 Hymns of Praise both edited by Reuel Lemmons; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 edited by Tillit S. Teddlie; the 1971 Songs of the Church and the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed. both edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat; the 2009 Favorite Songs of the Church and the 2010 Songs for Worship and Praise both edited by Robert J. Taylor Jr.; and the 2012 Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs edited by Steve Wolfgang et. al.; in addition to Hymns for Worship and Sacred Selections.

The hymn exhorts people not to wait to be saved.

I. Stanza 1 tells us that we should not tarry in coming to the Savior because He is wanting to give us a place among His people
Why do you wait, dear brother,
O why do you tarry so long?
Your Savior is waiting to give you
A place in His sanctified throng.
A. When Saul of Tarsus was praying, he was told not to tarry but to arise and be baptized: Acts 22:16
B. The Savior is waiting at the door of our hearts: Rev. 3:20
C. He wants to give us a place in His sanctified throng: Heb. 12:22-24

II. Stanza 2 tells us that we should understand that none else can save us but Jesus, so we should not delay in turning to Him.
What do you hope, dear brother,
To gain by a further delay?
There’s no one to save you but Jesus,
There’s no other way but His way.
A. Lot delayed leaving Sodom and almost lost his life: Gen. 19:15-16
B. Because Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, there is no other way to be saved besides Him: Jn. 14:6
C. Thus, we must realize that there is no other way than His strait and narrow way: Matt. 7:13-14

III. Stanza 3, which is not in Hymns for Worship, tells us that we should listen to the striving of the Spirit
Do you not feel, dear brother,
His Spirit now striving within?
O, why not accept His salvation,
And throw off your burden of sin?
A. Some may object to this stanza, but the Spirit does indeed strive with us by calling us through His word: Eph. 6:17 (the stanza does NOT necessarily assume a direct, miraculous operation of the Spirit)
B. It was the Spirit who revealed the truth to the apostles by which the world is convicted of sin and pointed to Christ who offers salvation: Jn. 16:7-13
C. And we can throw off our burden of sin by responding to His teaching in repentance and baptism to receive the gift of the Spirit: Acts 2:38

IV. Stanza 4 (#3 in Hymns for Worship) tells us that we should not wait to come to the Savior because someday the harvest will be past
Why do your wait, dear brother?
The harvest is passing away,
Your Savior is longing to bless you,
There are danger and death in delay.
A. The idea of “the harvest” is often used to represent the end of the world: Matt. 13:37-39 (but it can also refer to the end of life when all chance to respond will cease)
B. As long as we live on earth, the Savior is longing to bless us by offering salvation to all who obey Him: Heb. 5:8-9
C. However, because we don’t know when life or even this earth will end, there’s danger and death in delay: Jer. 8:20

V. In the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3, L. O. Sanderson removed the original stanza 3, moved the original stanza 4 to number 3, and provided an additional stanza for number 4 which tells us that we must have a true concern for our souls.
Do you not feel, dear brother,
A dying, accounting concern?
You’ll die and appear at the judgment
Beyond every point of return.
A. Like Felix, everyone should tremble as they hear about righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come: Acts 24:24-25
B. The fact is that we shall stand before God in judgment to give account of ourselves: Rom. 14:10-12
C. But then, we shall have passed beyond every point of return because after death and judgment, there will be no opportunity to change: Matt. 25:46

CONCL.: The simple chorus continues to make the same plea:
Why not? why not?
Why not come to Him now?
Why not? why not?
Why not come to Him now?
As he did with other such songs, editor Ellis Crum in Sacred Selections changed the word “brother” to “sinner,” apparently thinking that no one, especially a Christian, should ever refer to an unbaptized person as “brother,” even though Ananias called Saul “brother” (i.e., fellow Hebrew) before the latter’s conversion (Acts 9:17). The fact is that in days gone by, the word “brother” was often used as a common greeting without any reference to religion, as in the Depression-era song, “Brother, can you spare a dime?” God loves us. Jesus died for us. The Holy Spirit revealed the plan of salvation. Everyone is invited to seek forgiveness in Christ. Thus, the song asks the question of all who have not yet done so, “Why Do You Wait?”

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