German: Auf, den die Nacht wird kommen
Norwegian: Arbeid for natten kommer Swedish: Verka, ty natten kommer
Text: Anna Louisa Walker Coghill (1836-1906) Lowell Mason (1792-1872)
1. Work, for the night is coming, Work thru the morning hours; Work while the dew is sparkling, Work 'mid springing flow'rs. Work when the day grows brighter, Work in the glowing sun; Work, for the night is coming, When man's work is done.
2 .Work, for the night is coming, Work thru the sunny noon; Fill brightest hours with labor - Rest comes sure and soon. Give ev'ry flying minute Something to keep in store; Work, for the night is coming, When man works no more.
3. Work, for the night is coming, Under the sunset skies; While their bright tints are glowing, Work, for daylight flies. Work till the last beam fadeth, Fadeth to shine no more; Work, while the night is dark'ning, When man's work is o'er.
MEDITATION We were standing beside the bed of a dying man in the old people’s home in Oslo where I worked for a year after college. He did not have long, in any case, but I thought he could have gotten better care. Things were not going well at the home; the leadership was bad and neglected the residents. We worked too hard because we cared about them. I complained to the nurse helping me and she broke into tears. Yes, she agreed, but she could not see how we could change things. A devout Christian, she was distressed that she could not do all she wanted to. She knew the situation was evil. "Jesus said it would be so in the latter days," she wept. All she could do was, “Arbeid for natten kommer!/Work for the night is coming!
My Norwegian was a bit scant, but I knew the reference to the hymn immediately and understood her sentiment. It was a phrase commonly used among the nurses aids when we felt overwhelmed by all the work we had to do. Arbeid for natten kommer! Someone would sigh, shaking their heads.
I had grown up singing it at mission festivals and any kind of meeting challenging us to spread the gospel. I knew exactly the Scripture it referred to and heard the Master’s voice from John 9:4 when he has healed the man blind from birth, “I must work the work of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.”
I haven’t sung it for years. But have repeated the opening lines many, many times. On seeing it again, I realize it is more than a mission hymn and really applies to any kind of service that one must do. I am also a bit surprised at how little it names the name or speaks biblically about our work. What is interesting is that any Christian who sings it hardly needs that. The main sentence is straight from Jesus' mouth. It is assumed; people who know Scripture know exactly what it is saying and believe it.
Naming the name of Jesus is fundamental to Christian endeavor. I watch like a hawk when Christian institutions I am involved with write mission statements: name the name, I insist. Many will say, that is assumed, but if it is not named, it can be forgotten. Jesus' name scandalizes the world. Many will say to Christian organizations, I could be with you, but not with Jesus' name there. It needs to be there to keep us straight on our mission. All our work should be done in Jesus’ name, we know.
The Norwegian, Swedish and German translations do mention Jesus or Christ. The translators heard the reference clearly and used the name in their translations because it was assumed. I am not criticizing this old piece of history, not at all, but rather remarking on the fact that everyone knew the reference once, and expected it. I am recalling how present the hymn was and Jesus was in some of the most exhausting and dispiriting work I have ever done. It gave us strength during our "flying minutes" when we remembered the admonition of our Lord who had just healed a man so he could see.
Coghill was born in England and moved with her family to Canada where her father worked as an engineer. She began writing novels, children‘s plays and hymns. Her hymns and poems were published in 1861 in Leaves from the Backwoods. Her novels, especially A Canadian Heroine (1873), about Canadian life put her in the lists of Canada's early women writers.
This text was first printed in 1854 in a Canadian newspaper. In the 1860s she returned with her family to England where she cared for her father and mother as they died. She continued to write novels, living as housekeeper and companion for Margaret Oliphant, herself a successful novelist. Ira Sankey published it in his book of Sacred Songs and Solos, but without attributing it to Coghill which meant she never received royalties. He probably did not know it was she who had written the hymn. The story goes that she heard the hymn being sung at a meeting and informed the publisher she was the writer. At least from then on she was credited with the hymn. In 1886 she married Harry Coghill, a wealthy industrialist.
Mason’s tune fits the text exceptionally well. How it got connected with the text is not clear in the histories. In any case, it traveled throughout the world and has been translated into many languages and sung with fervor wherever people are eager to bring the gospel to others. It is appears in the current Norwegian and Swedish hymnals.
Arbeid for natten Kommer Torstein Backer Owe https://youtu.be/U5fvNkDHkfA
Dallas Adult Christian Choir
HH Internationale Gemeinde https://youtu.be/To_ndsenxzg
Tamil choir https://youtu.be/Jw7HegXYUTs
Boy playing the hymn on the piano https://youtu.be/u6wFJJTa-QU
Keith James Dixieland piano version