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Let me begin with what little I could glean concerning this hymn and its author:

For many years, the only information known about this gospel song was what Ira D. Sankey wrote in his autobiography. Sankey (1840-1908) was the well-known gospel singer and hymn writer who accompanied Dwight L. Moody in the late 1800’s as the two of them traveled all over the world holding camp meetings and revivals.

In 1873, Sankey first published a collection of the gospel songs he sang in the revivals. Many gospel songs still in common use today became popular by inclusion in his collections. One of his collections is still in use in England today. And his autobiography is the source work of information about many gospel songs.

"Take Time to Be Holy," Sankey says, was written by William Dunn Longstaff (1822-1894) after hearing a sermon on I Peter 1:16. However, many years later the composer of the tune, George C. Stebbins, said that Longstaff wrote the hymn after hearing a missionary to China being quoted as saying, "Take time and be holy" at a meeting he attended. Whatever the origin (and both elements may be equally true, when you think about it), Stebbins had received the poem from a friend in 1890, who had clipped it from a periodical. Later, while Stebbins was spending a winter in India assisting Dr. George F. Pentecost and Bishop Thoburn in evangelistic and conference work, he recalled that he had the slip of paper with him. He promptly set music to the words and sent it off to Sankey in New York. Part of the reason Sankey probably accepted it was on the basis of his long-time friendship with Longstaff. Sankey published it first in 1890.

(From a sermon by Daniel Austin, "Take Time to be Holy" 2/16/2009)

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