1840–1907

Introduction

Born: Ju­ly 4, 1840, West Fal­low­field, Penn­syl­van­ia.

Died: Ju­ly 9, 1907, Kins­man, Ohio.

Buried: New Kins­man Ce­me­te­ry, Kins­man, Ohio.

Pseudonyms

portrait

Biography

James was the son of George Mc­Gra­na­han and Jane Blair, and hus­band of Ad­die Vick­ery.

This ar­ti­cle by Gla­dys Doo­nan, To Reap for the Mas­ter, ap­peared in Chal­lenge, De­cem­ber 28, 1986. Used by per­mis­sion of Reg­u­lar Bap­tist Press, Schaum­burg, Il­li­nois.

Even the fes­tiv­i­ties of the Christ­mas seas­on that De­cem­ber of 1876 couldn’t drive them from his mind—those notes his friend Phil­ip had writ­ten to him just a few days be­fore the hol­i­day. He read them ov­er and ov­er again and al­most de­cid­ed to yield to the urg­ing of their mes­sage—al­most, but not quite. His dreams of per­son­al am­bi­tion were still too pre­cious. How could he give them up?

James Mc­Gra­na­han was a tal­ent­ed and cu­ltured Am­er­i­can mu­si­cian who lived from 1840 to 1907. He was gift­ed with a rare ten­or voice and stu­died for years with em­i­nent teach­ers who urged him to train for a ca­reer in op­e­ra. Of course, this ad­vice op­ened up to his imag­in­a­tion daz­zling pros­pects of fame and for­tune. And he was as­sured time and time again it was all with­in his grasp.

James Mc­Gra­na­han was a Chris­tian, and he had a Chris­tian friend Phil­ip P. Bliss who was con­cerned about him. His friend was al­so a cap­a­ble mu­si­cian who had gone through ma­ny of the same ex­per­i­enc­es in his young­er days as a sing­er. How­ev­er, he had been sen­si­tive to the claims of the Lord on his life and had yield­ed his tal­ents to God for full-time Chris­tian ser­vice.

Though on­ly two years old­er than Mc­Gra­na­han, Phil­ip Bliss, at 38, had a good doz­en years of Chris­tian work be­hind him. He was then serv­ing as a gos­pel so­lo­ist with the great evan­gel­ist Ma­jor D. W. Whit­tle. How he thrilled to the re­sponse of the great crowds who ga­thered for their cam­paigns and to the work­ing of the Ho­ly Spir­it through his mu­sic! He longed for his friend James to know that thrill as well!

Philip Bliss and his wife were pre­par­ing for a trip home to Penn­syl­vania for Christ­mas. There was much to be done, but in the midst of all the bus­tle and hur­ry Bliss felt strange­ly com­pelled to take time out to write Mc­Gra­na­han a let­ter. He kept think­ing of his 36-year-old friend, who was still stu­dy­ing mu­sic, still pre­par­ing for—what? Would it be op­e­ra or would it be the Lord’s work?

Philip Bliss prayed as he wrote that he would know the right words to put down. He knew the Lord was deal­ing with James and was ea­ger for his friend to make the right de­ci­sion.

Finally the let­ter was done. Bliss, need­ing en­cour­age­ment and ap­prov­al for what he had said, read it to Major Whit­tle. In the let­ter he com­pared Mc­Gra­na­han’s long course of mu­sic­al train­ing to a man whet­ting his scythe for the har­vest. The cli­max came as he strong­ly urged, Stop whet­ting the scythe and strike in­to the grain to reap for the Mas­ter!

The let­ter was sent on its way and quick­ly reached its des­ti­na­tion. Those words touched James Mc­Gra­na­han as no oth­ers had be­fore. He could think of no­thing else. Strike in­to the grain to reap for the Mas­ter…to reap for the Mas­ter…to reap for the Mas­ter! Day and night those words were be­fore him.

One week lat­er, De­cem­ber 19 [ac­tu­al­ly, De­cem­ber 29], 1876, the man who had penned the words was dead. The train return­ing the Bliss­es from Penn­syl­van­ia to Chi­ca­go where Phil­ip was sched­uled to sing at Moody Ta­ber­na­cle broke through a rail­road bridge at Ash­ta­bula, Ohio. It plunged in­to a 60-foot chasm and caught fire. Among the 100 who per­ished in the dis­as­ter were the 38-year-old gos­pel singer and his wife.

When James Mc­Gra­na­han re­ceived news of the tra­ge­dy he rushed im­me­di­ate­ly to the scene of the ac­ci­dent. And it was there, for the first time, that he met Ma­jor Whit­tle.

The evan­gel­ist lat­er re­cord­ed his thoughts on the oc­ca­sion: Here be­fore me stands the man that Mr. Bliss has chos­en to be his suc­cess­or.

The two men made the re­turn trip to Chi­ca­go to­geth­er, and as they rode they talked. Be­fore they reached the ci­ty James Mc­Gra­na­han de­cid­ed to yield his life, his tal­ents, his all to the ser­vice of his Sav­ior. He would strike in­to the grain to reap for the Mas­ter.

The op­er­a­tic world lost a star that day, but the Chris­tian world gained one of its sweet­est gos­pel sing­ers. James Mc­Gra­na­han was great­ly used in ev­an­gel­is­tic cam­paigns through­out Am­er­i­ca, in Great Bri­tain and in Ire­land.

Publications

Sources

Lyrics

Music