For the Night Is Coming

Finish this verse:

“Work, for the night is coming …”

Did you say, “… when man’s work is done”? If so, you’ve quoted a popular old hymn by Annie Coghill. It’s a gem that urges followers of the Messiah to work hard. It also alludes to our heavenly rewards, which is a topic much neglected in modern songs, to the detriment of the Body of Christ.

Here are all three stanzas of the poem by Mrs. Coghill, which was first published in 1854 —

1 Work, for the night is coming,
Work through the morning hours;
Work while the dew is sparkling;
Work ‘mid springing flowers;
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 through the sunny noon;
Fill brightest hours with labor,
Rest comes sure and soon;
Give every 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 darkening,
When man’s work is o’er.

This poem encourages diligence, a character trait that I’m working on – though not as diligently as I perhaps should! It’s a wonderful work. However, I differ rather sharply from Mrs. Coghill in my interpretation of the verse this poem has as its foundation, Luke 9:4.

Here is that verse, in context, from the English Standard Version translation —

3Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud 7and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. (John 9:3-7, ESV)

When the Lord Yeshua (Jesus of Nazareth) said, “… night is coming, when no one can work,” did He mean, “Death is approaching, when I will no longer work”?

This interpretation seems unlikely. First, He did not stop working when He died. We know, for example, that He is seated on the throne that His Father is graciously sharing with Him. From there, He is praying for His followers continually.

Indeed, the author of Hebrews argues in chapter 7 that Yeshua’s priesthood is superior to that of the Aaronic priests precisely because He continues to work for us (but the Aaronic priests were all stopped from further work by their deaths).

Consequently, he [Yeshua] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Heb. 7:25, ESV)

Could the Lord have meant, “Your death is approaching, after which you will no longer work?” Perhaps. That appears to be the way that the poet and many others interpret this verse.

Yet the death of the saints cannot permanently end their work. It merely provides a break, a rest before the next assignment.

What seems to be in view is the “night” of persecution. We must work for God’s Kingdom while it is “day,” while we have the chance to pray, meet, teach, and witness. At some point in this world’s history, working for God’s Kingdom will be impossible due to the most severe persecution ever.

For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. (Matt. 24:21-22, ESV)

May we, regardless of which rapture camp we happen to fall into, take seriously our all-too-limited opportunity to work for the Kingdom of God and of the Lamb! Pray for us in this regard, dear brothers and sisters, and we will pray for you.

If you are regretting your missed opportunities, as I am, then make corrections now. Work! The night is coming!

After that, there will be the grand day of rejoicing and rewards. What rewards will they deserve who have been slack in their work for the One who has given them His all?

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright 2011 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Brackets mine.