Who wrote the song Bringing in the Sheaves?

As soon as I see those words I can hear the song in my mind! It’s one that really sticks with you, although I don’t think I know more than the chorus in English! I learnt this song in mother tongue and have mastered all the stanzas in that language. This song has been used in several movies, including Texas ChainSaw Massacre, and Granny Clampett used to sing it in the Beverly Hillbillies!

The story behind the hymn: When he was only 13, Knowles Shaw stood at the bedside of his dying father. “Prepare to meet thy God!” said the old man. Weighty words from Amos 4:12. And the young man promptly ignored them! A talented fiddler, he played for many community dances, living a careless, fun-filled life.

But five years later, at a rowdy dance party, Knowles Shaw seemed to hear his father’s words echoing in his heart. He says he dropped his violin bow on the spot. Sensing his values were all wrong, he determined never again to use his talent just to amuse the careless crowd. At the age of eighteen, Knowles Shaw gave his heart to Christ and prepared for Christian ministry. Records kept at the time suggest that the Lord used him to bring nearly 20,000 people to Christ.

In 1874, he wrote a gospel song called Bringing in the Sheaves. It is based on Psalm 126:5-6 which says: Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.
That expresses a basic principle that can be applied to serving the Lord. A similar encouragement is given to us in Galatians, “Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Gal. 6:9). These passages remind us there is hard work involved in our service for the Lord, with heavy burdens, and perhaps even tears. But the end result is well worth it. In part, Knowles Shaw’s hymn says:

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

Brining in Sheaves is a metaphorical image of harvesting: The words were written by Shaw Knowles in 1874. The song was written for worship in Christian services, and the images of sowing and harvesting in the song are biblical references. The Bible makes numerous references to sowing seed, which is understood to be the act of spreading knowledge and truth. Specifically, it refers to telling others about Jesus, who said of himself “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by me.”

With this understanding of the act of sowing (planting seeds), the acts of harvesting are then easier to understand. Truth (i.e. knowledge of Jesus) is planted in the hearts and minds of people, which then grows into knowledge, understanding, and belief. The final fruit of that growth is when people believe in Jesus, and choose to follow him. Thus, while the literal image of bringing in sheaves is an image of gathering grain during a harvest, the metaphorical image is one of followers of Jesus presenting to God (Jesus) the new followers that have been brought into his service by their efforts.

The Bible itself uses the harvesting metaphor several times in ways that mirror the harvest metaphor in the song, casting the followers of Jesus in the role of harvesters. In Matthew chapter 9, verses 35-38:
• 35. Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.
• 36. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
• 37. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.
• 38. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

There is a more subtle implication (maybe not so subtle if you read more closely than I) that the sowing and reaping / harvesting is done by God’s followers, but the actual work of causing the seed of truth to grow into understanding and belief is the word of God through the Holy Spirit. What an interesting set of metaphors.

Couple of comments on the lyrics:
“Sowing seeds of kindness” – Isn’t this really where grace and love start? With a kind word. A kind action. An act of forgiveness that opens the door to share the good news of Jesus. Chris Tomlin has a contemporary worship song that I really enjoy. It says “It’s your kindness Lord that leads us to repentance.” The Lord is merciful and compassionate and kind. Psalm 117:2 says “For his merciful kindness is great toward us: and the truth of the LORD endureth for ever. Praise ye the LORD.” Galatians 5:22-23 says “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

“Sowing in the shadows” – I get the mental image of the farmer that rises early in the morning and sows in the shadows, and who continues to work into the shadows of the dusk of evening . He has an urgency about him. He has little time. But he can’t wait for perfect weather. He can’t spread the planting over several months. He must get the seed in the ground. Yes, it is hard work. Yes, it may bring grief and pain. But oh what reward there is come harvest time. To see the fruit of one’s labor. To know that every drop of blood, sweat, and tears has not brought an abundant harvest. We, too, must be like this farmer. We must sow in the shadows. We must be willing to do the hard work required to get the seed in the ground. The harvest is coming.

The author of this hymn had a rather unusual name – Knowles. Not sure of the origin of that name, but his name did make me think. Are we a generation that “knows-less” about God? Have we forgotten how God’s hand was upon many nations founding? Sowing in the morning, the noontime, and evening. Spreading the good news in the buckle of the Bible Belt. There will be a harvest one day, and I pray that each of us can be one of the ones who comes rejoicing “bringing in the sheaves.”

Further Notes About this hymn and Knowles Shaw: Knowles Shaw was born on October 31,1834, in Butler County, Ohio. We don’t know much about his childhood, but we are lucky to have an eyewitness to his death. He was a great soul winner and loved the great hymns of his day. He contributed one that was written in 1874 and after 133 years still is dear to the hearts of Christians everywhere.

The following letter written by his pastor, elder Kirk Baxter from Dallas, Texas tells of his final day on earth.
” Dear Brother: Just one year ago, to-day, Brother Shaw was killed. During his last meeting among the numerous calls to labor at other places, was one from the church at McKinney, which sent a delegation to urge him to visit there, if only for a few days. He replied, ‘As that is one of Brother Baxter’s points of labor, I will go.’ His meeting in Dallas closed on the night of the 6th of June. That night he spent at Brother Dr. Johnston’s. He telegraphed to the church at McKinney, that he and I would be there the next day. Early the next morning there was a tremendous rainfall, lasting two or three hours. The brethren tried to prevail on him not to go to McKinney that morning, urging that the weather was so unfavorable that he could not have a meeting if he went, and insisted that he should remain in Dallas that day and rest. He replied, ‘No; we have telegraphed the brethren we would be there, and we must go; that there was no time to rest now; rest would come by and by.’ I met him at the depot about seven o’clock that morning, as lively and cheerful as I ever had seen him. He had bought his ticket and was ready to start. We took a seat in the car, and, in a few moments, were off. We conversed a few moments in regard to the work at McKinney. He then took up the morning paper and looked through it. While thus engaged, I left him, and went forward to the front of the car, and was about to pass out to the coach ahead, when some one called me by name. I turned, and saw a Methodist minister, Mr. Malloy, whom I had known years before in Arkansas. I sat down by him, and spent some time in conversation. He asked me about our meeting in Dallas, and Brother Shaw. I told him that Mr. Shaw was on the train, and just at that moment caught his eye, and beckoned to him, and he came to where we were seated, I introduced him to Rev. Mr. Malloy, and gave him my seat, and took the next one. Mr. Malloy asked him to tell him the secret of his success in protracted meetings, which Brother Shaw proceeded to do in a very earnest manner, saying he depended much on the power of song; preached Christ; always kept Jesus before the people; made them feel that they were sinners, and needed just such a Savior as he preached; that he never became discouraged; had confidence in the gospel truth as the power of God; that he loved his work, and became wholly absorbed in it; and added: ‘Oh, it is a grand thing to rally people to the Cross of Christ.’ At that moment, I turned to see if we were in sight of McKinney, and I felt the car was off the track, bouncing over the ties. I did not feel in any danger; did not know that we were on an embankment, and expected that we would check up in a moment or two. I saw Brother Shaw rise from his seat, and realizing at once that the car was going over. Not a word was spoken. I saw Brother Shaw alive no more. All became as dark as night. When I came to myself, the coach was at the bottom of the embankment, and I was its only occupant. I looked around but all were gone. When I got out I saw the passengers on the railroad track above me, and made my way up to them. The first one I met was Mr. Malloy, with whom Brother Shaw was seated at the time of the accident. I said to him, ‘Have you seen Brother Shaw.’ ‘No,’ said he, ‘I fear he is under the wreck; but he saved my life by pushing me from the position in which he himself fell.’ I waited to hear no more, but ran down to the wreck, looked in, and saw a man’s hand pointing upward out of the water. It was Brother Shaw’s hand. I called for help, and in about fifteen minutes he was taken lifeless from the water. Portions of the wreck had to be cut away with an ax before the body could be reached and removed. I had the body placed in the baggagecar, which had not been thrown from the track, and sent to McKinney, where it was taken charge of by the brethren and place in the church. I sent a telegram to Dallas, telling the sad news. In a short time, a deep gloom pervaded the whole city, as from house to house passed the sad words, ‘Brother Shaw is dead.’ Quite a number were injured by the accident; some very severely. My own injuries were of a serious nature, much more so than I at first supposed. Such was Brother Shaw’s last day on earth.”

Knowles Shaw wrote the music for “Bringing in the Sheaves,” in 1874, but was not as well received as would be expected. In 1880 George Austin Minor wrote a new tune for this hymn and it was well received and we still sing it to this tune today.

George Minor was born on December 7,1845 in Richmond Virginia. He attended the military academy in Richmond Virginia and served during the Civil War. After the war he went into the music field and began teaching at music schools and conducted singings at conventions. He was a member of First Baptist Church, Richmond, Virginia. He was also Sunday School Superintendent there.