Luther heard Rev. A. G. Upham tell the story of a young man who was about to die. He’d only been a Christian for a month, and was sad because he’d had so little time to serve the Lord.
He said,I am not afraid to die; Jesus saves me now. But must I go empty handed?
This incident prompted the writing of the song; Stebbins wrote the music when Luther gave him the words.
The complete song was first published in Gospel Hymns No. 3, 1878.
Compare Will I Empty Handed Be?
Must I go, and empty handed,
Thus my dear Redeemer meet?
Not one day of service give Him,
Lay no trophy at His feet?
Must I go, and empty handed?
Must I meet my Savior so?
Not one soul with which to greet Him,
Must I empty handed go?
Not at death I shrink or falter,
For my Savior saves me now;
But to meet Him empty handed,
Thought of that now clouds my brow.
O the years in sinning wasted,
Could I but recall them now,
I would give them to my Savior,
To His will I’d gladly bow.
O ye saints, arouse, be earnest,
Up and work while yet ’tis day;
Ere the night of death o’ertake thee,
Strive for souls while still you may.