James Rowe is Lifted by Love

Hymn Writer, James Rowe was born in Devonshire, England on January 1, 1865.

At an early age Rowe entered the Government Survey Department, where he continued till 1890. when his family migrated to America and he settled at Albany, NY. There Rowe became a railroad employee and married Blanche Clapper.

He later devoted his life to literary pursuits and became famous for writing hymn lyrics, becoming one of the most prolific hymn poets of the twentieth century. By his own record, he produced more than 19,000 hymns for a number of different composers.

In 1896 he turned his hand to writing hymns. “Poetry, came easy to him”, said his daughter in one of her letters. His first song was “Speak it for the Saviour”.

“He delighted in composing extemporaneously a poem of some length as he spoke to an assembled audience.” (Songs of Glory by W.J. Reynolds, page 126). Not only gospel songs flowed from his pen, but also “humorous verse for greeting cards.”

Rowe wrote several enduring hymns with the assistance of a pianist, composes, Howard E. Smith, who was born on July 16, 1863. Smith was an active musician throughout his life and served many years as an organist in Connecticut.

In a letter dated 23 May, 1955, James Rowe’s daughter (Mrs. Louise Rowe Mayhew) wrote: “Howard E. Smith was a little man whose hands were so knotted with arthritis that you would wonder how he could use them at all, much less play the piano, but he could and did.” She goes on to describe how her father paced to and fro around the room composing the words of his best-known gospel song whilst Howard E. Smith, the local church organist, set them to music. The result?
I was sinking deep in sin, Far from the peaceful shore;
Very deeply stained within, Sinking to rise no more;
But the Master of the sea Heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me … Now safe am I.

That song. “Love Lifted Me”, was written in 1911, or 1912 and was copyrighted in 1912.

Other gospel songs written by James Rowe include:
Be like Jesus … this my song,
In the home and in the throng…

And the grand old Elim chorus…
I walk with the King …Hallelujah!
I walk with the King, praise His name…

Rowe not only composed songs and poems, but he was also an effective singing teacher. It is recorded on one singing instructor named Eugene Monroe Bartlett that “his schools brought together such well known singing teachers as James Rowe and Homer Rodeheaver”.

Rodeheaver, a popular gospel singer, recounts an occasion when he sang Rowe’s song, “I walk with the King”, “to a great crowd of coloured folks one night”. He explains that “one of the good old-fashioned aunties got up from the back row, taking off her sun-bonnet, waving it in the air, and stepping high down the aisle, she exclaimed, ‘Hallelujah! I walk wid Him too, brudder!’ Then there came the chorus from all over the house, ‘Yeah! we all walk wid Him down here!’”

Gypsy Smith had a favourite song among Rowe’s 8,000 hymns and poems that were circulated, being…
“Be like Jesus, this my song,
In the home and in the throng;
Be like Jesus, all day long!
I would be like Jesus.”

Many of Rowe’s best songs owe much of their popularity to the attractive musical settings of Mr. B. D. Ackley, who was at one time pianist for Billy Sunday.

James Rowe went Home to walk the golden street with his King on 10 November, 1933, in Vermont, USA.

This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

Billy Sunday Moves a Nation

William Ashley (Billy) Sunday was born on November 19, in Iowa, USA, 1862.

He never saw his father. Billy, as he is better known, was born four months after his father had marched away to fight in the Civil War – never to return to see this third child. Billy lived with him mum, in a Soldier’s Orphans Home and with his grandfather during his growing years, then went through diverse jobs including fireman, janitor and undertaker’s assistant, before getting the chance to go to high school.

By 1880 baseball had become the passion of his life and in 1883 he left his amateur team to play with the Chicago White Stockings. Sunday gained nationwide recognition for his baseball prowess, becoming the first player to run the bases in 14 seconds. He also set records for stealing bases.

In 1886 he stopped to listen to a gospel band on a street corner and he then followed them to the Pacific Garden Mission on Van Buren Street. At that meeting he knelt to accept Christ.

In the years shortly following his conversion he married Helen Amelia Thompson, worked with the YMCA and gave public talks about Christian living while touring with his baseball team. His career advanced and he played with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He also attended Northwestern University for a time, coaching the baseball team in return for his tuition.

Sunday turned down a $400 per month baseball salary (the average worker made $480 per year) for a $84 per month ministry position. Ball teams later offered $500- $2000 per month. Later in life he was offered $1,000,000 to be in the movies, but declined them all in order to continue the evangelistic ministry.

After working for some years with the YMCA and then as assistant to evangelist Wilbur Chapman, Billy Sunday launched out into an itinerant evangelistic ministry (1896-1935).

Thousands crammed into specially built ‘tabernacles’ with sawdust-lined aisles to hear the explosive preaching of this new revivalist.

“By the end of his career he had preached to 100 million souls, of whom a million had walked the ‘sawdust trail’ – that is, had responded to his invitation for them to accept Christ as Saviour (Christianity Today, June, 1991, page 36).

“His magnetic personality, blended with sensational speech and theatrical gestures, kept audiences spellbound!” says the Dictionary of Religious Biography, page 443.

His anti-booze sermon caused “scores of towns and counties” to go dry. Hotels went out of business. His acrobatic preaching meant “he had to change his sweat-soaked suit after each meeting”.

His song-leader, Homer Rodeheaver, wrote that when Billy preached his sermon “The Devil’s Boomerang” – “until he tempered it down a little … two to 10 men fainted every time I heard him preach it!” (Twenty Years with Billy Sunday, page 32).

Sunday contributed much to the Prohibition of alcoholic beverages, through his powerful anti-booze preaching, especially his famous “Get on the Water Wagon” sermon. In later life he devoted much energy in defending the Prohibition amendment from repeal. A battle which he and the temperance movement lost.

It has been pointed out that he was one of the most outstanding preachers of history, yet he has left virtually no legacy. John Wesley was also a great preacher, yet his legacy survives today. The difference between the men is that Wesley built systems which others could employ, while Sunday built only on his own temporary presence and talent. There is a lesson in there for all who wish to make a difference.

Sunday passed away after a heart attack in 1935 at age 73. Helen began an active ministry of her own following his death and continued touching lives for another 22 years.

Not without his faults and plagued by errant sons, nevertheless Billy Sunday stood tall among the giants of evangelism.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.