Take My Life, and Let It Be

Consecration Hymn
Frances R. Havergal, 1874
Addressed to God
Take my life, and let it beGen. 24:7; Ex. 6:7; Rom. 6:17-19; 2 Tim. 4:6
consecrated, Lord, to thee.Lev. 11:44
Take my moments and my days;Ps. 62:8; Eph. 5:16
let them flow in ceaseless praise.1 Cor. 10:31
Take my hands, and let them moveRom. 12:1
at the impulse of thy love.2 Cor. 5:14; Gal. 6:10
Take my feet, and let them be
swift and beautiful for thee.Ps. 119:60; Rom. 10:15
Take my voice, and let me sing,Ps. 47:6
always, only, for my King.
Take my lips, and let them beEx. 6:12–13; Is. 6:7
filled with messages from thee.2 Tim. 3:16
Take my silver and my gold;Luke 16:10–13
not a mite would I withhold.2 Sam. 19:30; Luke 21:4; Acts 4:36–37
Take my intellect, and use2 Cor. 10:5; Col. 1:21–22
ev’ry pow’r as thou shalt choose.
Take my will, and make it thine;Phil. 2:13
it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is thine own;Heb. 13:9
it shall be thy royal throne.Col. 3:15
Take my love; my Lord, I pour
at thy feet its treasure-store.Luke 7:38
Take my self, and I will beMark 10:16; John 14:3
ever, only, all for thee.Ps. 103:1; 2 Cor. 8:5

Of all petitions that we offer up in prayer for our own welfare, this is the chief: that God would set us apart for his holy purposes. Every other good that we desire for ourselves, if it is indeed good, is to this end. We want God to take full possession, conform us to his character, and thereby reveal his glory ever more clearly through us. This sanctification believers can and should seek (2 Cor. 7:1); however, given their residual fleshly tendencies (1 Cor. 3:1), the hymn above focuses not so much on their giving themselves to God (there is some of this, and rightly so, especially in the second half of the hymn) but on their asking God to take them. Though the Bible insists on both, God’s taking is infinitely more reliable than our giving. When singers of this hymn make their request sincerely, they should expect God in Christ to grant it, even if it not be in the way they expect!

The greatness of the hymn can be appraised by how it enables Christians to communicate richly a biblical request through what is really a very simple structure: twelve parallel sentences, each one a rhymed couplet, beginning with the same word and each asking God to take possession of a different part of oneself, either physical (sentences 2–7) or spiritual (sentences 8–11). Cumulatively, these petitions render a picture of God’s total ownership. After singing the first couple of stanzas, singers can anticipate the pattern, and, rather than expending mental energy figuring out how the text works, they can expend it in the effort to mean what they say.

There is a lot to mean, for a lot is being said. The first couplet introduces the topic of consecration with an appropriate poetic resonance. Seven monosyllabic and plain words lead up to, and counterbalance, the lengthy and loaded word “consecrated,” framed beautifully by alliterative Ls and the poem’s first rhyme. Then the second sentence describes the consecration of our time according to two measures: our moments (every instant) and our days (the whole of our time). Elsewhere, in her book Kept for the Master’s Use (1879), the poet proved from Job 34:20 and 1 Corinthians 15:52 the importance of moments. Here, our moments and days can “flow” if spent rightly, in ceaseless praise. This idea of a nearly musical ordering of time prefigures the explicit reference to music in stanza 3.

Already present at the end of stanza 1 are two themes that shape the rest of the poem. The first is the thoroughness of God’s taking. The praise is “ceaseless.” Similarly, in stanza 3, one’s singing will be “always, only” for him, and one’s lips will be “filled” with his messages. In stanza 4, one withholds not even a mite (the smallest coin), and one asks God to use “every” intellectual power. The summarizing final couplet simply asks God to take one’s “self.” Early printings of the poem set the last two adverbs in special type to emphasize this theme: “ever, only, ALL for thee.”

The other theme already present in the flowing figure of stanza 1 is our activity. The act of praising God will harmonize moments and days into a smooth continuity. In stanza 2 one’s hands will “move at the impulse” of God’s love, and one’s feet will be “swift.” In stanza 3 one will sing and deliver messages. The grammar of “Take My Life” makes us the object of God’s taking, but at no point does the hymn suggest we are passive in our sanctification. Notice the subtle grammatical shift midway through. The first three stanzas consist entirely of petitions to God, constructed in the imperative mood (the implied subject of “let” being God), but, beginning in the second line of stanza 4, petitions alternate with promises. In the clause, “not a mite would I withhold,” the grammatical subject is for the first time something other than God. This is true, too, of the second and fourth lines of stanza 5. Climactically, the human first-person clauses in stanza 6 are not confined to lines 2 and 4 but begin already halfway through lines 1 and 3, and the petitions are kept to only three syllables each. With increasing fervor we press our petition by declaring our intention to exist for God.

The poet uses the same rhyme for the two summary couplets (the first and last) in order to connect them. Indeed, the couplet nearest the midpoint of the hymn also uses this rhyme: all three rhyme “be” against “thee” to mark a clear structure of beginning, middle, and end.

The tune ST. BEES presents its musical ideas with a wide-eyed simplicity and grace suitable to a request to serve. It assumes the same tone as the slave in Exodus 21:5, who plainly says “I love my master; I will not go out free.” The repeated pitch (A-flat) at the beginning provides a perfect setting for the “take” phrases: three notes, somewhat detached from all that follows by a dotted, or lengthened, third note, used for a phrase three syllables long (in every stanza but the fourth). The melody of the first line of the stanza (measures 1–2) begins and ends on the first scale-degree. The contrasting second line winds its way all around the first scale-degree without actually touching it. A tender dissonance on the downbeat of measure 4 (of the type theorists call appoggiatura) is actually the same as the very colorful sonority on the downbeat of measure 2, but recast in an even more poignant spacing of pitches. The third line reworks the contour of the second line, and the fourth achieves closure by returning to the repeated A-flats of the beginning (in John B. Dykes’s original, even the rhythm of these A-flats was the same as at the beginning). The monotone is especially suggestive of the flowing, ceaseless praise mentioned in stanza 1. The form of ST. BEES, then, can be schematically diagramed ABB'A'. It avoids tedium by setting the twelve couplets of “Take My Life” to alternating melodic units that mirror each other: odd numbered couplets set to AB and even numbered couplets to B'A', in six neat arcs.

The alternative tune, HENDON, is a fine choice, too, but congregations interested in using it for “Come, My Soul, Thy Suit Prepare” would benefit from learning ST. BEES for “Take My Life.”