Thursday, October 13, 2016

Knowles Shaw

Today is the birthday of evangelist and gospel song writer Knowles Shaw, born near New London, Ohio.  He began to play the violin at the age of ten (the instrument was given to him by his dying father), and eventually played at public dances.  One story claims that his conversion to Christianity happened suddenly, in the middle of a dance, and he immediately stopped the song he was playing and left the building.

Shaw was baptized in the Churches of Christ in 1852, and over the next few years he married and started a family, initially supporting them by working as a farmhand. In 1858 he was first asked to speak in a worship service, and before long his gifts for speaking and music would lead to the career he would follow for the rest of his life.

He became known as the "Singing Evangelist," traveling around the western and southern United States leading revival meetings.  During the day he would introduce himself around town, inviting people to the meeting that night, which he would begin by leading about a half hour of congregational singing, followed by delivering a sermon, and sometimes baptizing several people. Estimates of the number of persons he baptized range from 11,000 to 20,000, depending on which source you read.

He also turned his musical skills and scriptural knowledge to the writing and publishing of gospel songs (sometimes the words, sometimes the music, often both) which he then introduced in his meetings (much like his contemporary Ira Sankey).  Between 1868 and 1878 he brought out five songbooks, largely made up of his own songs, including Sparkling Jewels (1871), The Golden Gate (1874) and The Morning Star (1877).

In looking at the writers of hymns and songs from previous generations, it's always a bit remarkable to encounter someone who wrote dozens and dozens of songs, and yet only one of those remains known today. This song by Shaw soon became his most popular, while the dozens of others faded away. The online hymn sites only list a fraction of his work, apparently not having thoroughly mined his five collections.

Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,
Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;
Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves,
Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Sowing in the sunshine, sowing in the shadows,
Fearing neither clouds nor winter’s chilling breeze;
By and by the harvest, and the labor ended,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Going forth with weeping, sowing for the Savior,
Though the loss sustained our spirit often grieves;
When our weeping’s over, Christ will bid us welcome,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Knowles Shaw, 1874; alt.
Tune: BRINGING IN THE SHEAVES ( with refrain)
George Minor, 1880

When this song was first published in The Golden Gate (it was #9, if you want to check the link above) Shaw had written both text and tune, but that tune was replaced by another after Shaw's death. 

On June 7, 1878, Shaw was traveling by train to McKinney, Texas when the train derailed.  He died saving the life of another passenger. The Reverend William Baxter, also associated with the Churches of Christ, wrote The Life of Knowles Shaw, the Singing Evangelist (1879).

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