The singing evangelist

Crowds gathered in breathless expectation to hear the “Singing Evangelist.” In mostly small towns and congregations he would mix sermons, delivered with great fervor, and hymns, led with great skill. His name was Knowles Shaw (1834-1878), and he was one of the most effective evangelists of his day.

He was born in Ross Township, Ohio. His father, who died when he was 12, left him a violin, which he learned to play. Soon he was playing at parties and dances around the region. Oddly, it was at a dance while he was playing that he was struck by a thought from Amos 4:12: “Prepare to meet thy God.” This was the turning point of his life. He left the dance immediately and spent the rest of the night in anguish and prayer. He began attending the Flat Rock Church of Christ and was baptized on September 13, 1852.

His most notable hymns were, “We Saw Thee Not,” “Tarry With Me,” “I Am the Vine” and “Bringing in the Sheaves.” He is a part of the rich heritage in song in our fellowship.

He was asked to preach one Sunday and his earnestness impressed his hearers. He became known as the “Singing Evangelist,” mixing passionate preaching while using hymns during his sermons. As a preacher, he exhibited an unwavering faith and unusual empathy. He was known for the passion with which he preached. He baptized 20,000 in his lifetime. Interestingly, in a day when many preachers made regular reports of their deeds and conversions in brotherhood periodicals, one will not find a word from Shaw about his own exploits.

In 1878, following a Gospel Meeting in Paris, Kentucky, where he saw 65 baptisms, he traveled to McKinney, Texas to hold a subsequent meeting. The train upon which he was traveling derailed and Shaw was killed. His last words were said to have been, “Oh it is a grand thing to rally people to the cross of Christ.”

I don’t know if you have thought about it, but when you consider hymn writers in Churches of Christ such as Knowles Shaw, Will Thompson, A.W, Dycus, Tillett S. Teddlie and many others, we can say with justifiable pride that ours is a rich heritage of worship in song.

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Stan Mitchell

Stan has preached since 1976, in Zimbabwe, California, Texas and Tennessee. He serves as preacher for the Red Walnut Church of Christ in Bath Springs, TN. He is currently Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He is married to the former Marjorie McCarthy, and has one daughter, Tracy Watts. He is the author of four books: The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: The Book of Proverbs, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, and Equipping the Saints for Ministry. He has recently published another book, "Will Our Faith Have Children: Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation.

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