“Sowing the Seed of the Kingdom”

"The seed is the word of God" (Lk. 8.11)

     INTRO.: Since the seed of the kingdom is the word of God, it should be our aim that we would always be, as this song suggests, "Sowing the Seed of the Kingdom" (#85 in Hymns for Worship Revised and #507 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written and the tune (Sowing Seed) was composed both by Frederick Augustus Fillmore, who was born on May 15, 1856, in Paris, IL, one of seven children, five sons and two daughters, born to Augustus Damon and Hannah Lockwood Fillmore. His father was a preacher in the Christian Church, as well as a composer, songbook compiler, and hymn publisher who developed his own system of musical notation using numbers on the staff in place of note heads. Augustus eventually settled in Cincinnati, OH, and established a music publishing business there. Until 1906, there was no official distinction between "Christian Churches" and "Churches of Christ." The names were used pretty much interchangeably, and many older churches of Christ which are faithful today were once known as "Christian Churches."

     Fred and his older brother James took over their father’s publishing business following the death of Augustus in 1870 and established the Fillmore Brothers Music House. This became a successful Cincinnati music firm, publishing church hymnals and later band and orchestral music. For many years the firm issued a monthly periodical, The Music Messenger.  The brothers edited many hymnbooks and produced many songs which became popular. Beginning with the songbook Songs of Glory in 1874, there appeared many Fillmore publications which became widely used through churches, especially in the midwest. For these collections, Fred provided a great deal of hymn tunes. The usual date given for the composition of this one is 1903, but in Selected Revival Songs, published by F. L. Rowe in 1917, this same tune is found with words by Palmer Hartsough and dated 1888. Most likely, Fillmore wrote new words for the tune and republished it in 1903.

     The last line of the third stanza has obviously undergone a fair amount of tinkering. In some books, it is changed to "That will come at the last great day." In others it reads, "That will bear sheaves for Christ each day." Still others have it, "Come and join the ranks today."  One of Fred’s most famous melodies is probably that which he did for the hymn, "I Know That My Redeemer Lives." It first appeared in a hymnal that he edited, The Wonderful Story in Song, in 1917. The copyright for both songs passed to the Gospel Advocate Company of Nashville, TN, who listed "Sowing the Seed of the Kingdom" as copyrighted by it in 1931, and they have been extremely popular hymns among churches of Christ. In addition to his music publishing work, Fillmore, who had a wonderful voice and was very effective as a song leader, was also a farmer, and he died at Cincinnati, OH, on Nov. 15, 1925.

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, besides Selected Revival Songs, the song appeared in the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1), the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2, and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 all edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1938/1944 (New) Wonderful Songs edited by Thomas Seth Cobb; the 1940 Complete Christian Hymnal and the 1960 Hymnal both edited by Marion Davis; the 1959 Majestic Hymnal No. 2 and the 1978 Hymns of Praise both edited by Reuel Lemmons; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; and the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 edited by Tillit S. Teddlie. Today it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.

    The song, based on the parable of the sower, emphasizes our need to be sowers.

I. The first stanza tells us the time when we should to sow the seed–morning, noon, and night
"Are you sowing the seed of the kingdom, brother, In the morning bright and fair?
Are you sowing the seed of the kingdom, brother, In the heat of the noon day’s glare?"
 A. We must work the works of Jesus while it is yet day, before the night comes: Jn. 9.4
 B. We must keep on sowing the seed whenever we can so that by all means we might save some, just as did the apostle Paul: 1 Cor. 9.16-23
 C. We must remember that now is the day of salvation–for us and for any one else: 2 Cor. 6.2, Heb. 3.13-15, Jas. 4.13-17

II. The second stanza talks about the goal for which we sow the seed–a harvest pure and white
"Are you sowing the seed of the kingdom, brother, In the still and solemn night?
Are you sowing the seed of the kingdom, brother, For a harvest pure and white?"
 A. Jesus needs laborers in His harvest: Matt. 9.35-38
 B. And as laborers, we need to be looking now to the harvest around us: Jn. 4.34-38
 C. If we do the planting and the watering, God has promised to give the increase: 1 Cor. 3.5-9

III. The third stanza speaks of the time toward which we look as we sow the seed–the last great day
"Are you sowing the seed of the kingdom, brother, All along the fertile way?
Are you sowing the seed of the kingdom, brother, You must reap at the last great day."
 A. This last great day, of course, is the day of final judgment: Jn. 12.48, Acts 17.30-31
 B. On that day, we will give account of our own stewardship of the gospel: Rom. 14.10-12, Rev. 20.11-15
 C. But also on that day we’ll have the joy of seeing those whom we’ve led to Christ by sowing the seed receive their reward as well–and that’s why we repeat the message of the apostles and call upon all men, "Be reconciled to God": 2 Cor. 5.9-20

     CONCL.: The chorus also links the concepts of judgment day and sowing seed by reminding us that the harvest time is coming on.
"For the harvest time is coming on, And the reapers’ work will soon be done;
Will your sheaves be many, will you garner any, For the gathering at the harvest home?"
Here are the original stanzas and the chorus by Hartsough.
1. "Are you sowing the seed of the kingdom, brother, In the Master’s field so fair?
Are you casting it forth with a full hand, brother, In the strength of faith and prayer?"
2. "Are you sowing the seed of the kingdom, brother, In the early morn so bright?
Are you sowing the seed as the day wears onward, And approach the shades of night?"
3. "Are you sowing the seed of the kingdom, brother, In the heart of tender years?
Are you sowing the seed o’er the ground so stony, Toiling on with prayers and tears?"
Chorus: "O the spring so bright is passing by, And the reaping time will surely come;
Haste! the seed wide flinging, Then at last come, bringing Golden sheaves for the harvest home."
Since I have grow up singing Fillmore’s own words, it seems to me that they are an improvement on the original. In any event, with love for the souls of men and a desire to follow the example of Jesus, we should always be looking for opportunities to be "Sowing The Seed Of The Kingdom."


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