The hymn was written in 1874 by Knowels Shaw, a preacher who said that he allowed music to speak to the hearts of people as he kept their sinfulness and need for Christ before them. The hymn's tune was changed 6 years later by George Minor and it has become a reminder of a harvest to come. Brother Knowles died in a train accident 4 years after writing the hymn.
Psalm 126:6 says "He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him (KJV)." This passage, the origin of the hymn, is a reminder that planting the precious seed of the convicting message of God comes with struggle and weeping but that seeing God's harvest of that seed is pure joy.
This same thought came to mind as I read a Facebook post from Dr. Everett Piper, the president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University. The title of the post was "This is not a day care, it's a university." The posted letter was inspired by a student that complained that a preached message from chapel "made him feel guilty and hurt his feelings." The angry college president responded by penning a few things worth repeating.
First, he said the whole idea of hearing God's word is to see our sin so we can realign ourselves with a Holy God. Second, he said the Christian faith is about or being right with God ... not our self-actualization. Third, he said we cannot "humbly learn" if we value our self-focused opinions more than those who are teaching us. Fourth, he chastised the student's view that he was a victim ... "if you want to be enabled rather than confronted, there are many universities across the nation that will give you exactly what you want." Finally, he said the school would not issue warnings before altar calls.
While I didn't agree with all of what Dr. Piper said (I think he used the word guilt when he might have better used "conviction" [an action of God's Spirit]) I agree that we often desire the harvest without the struggle of planting and cultivation. Churches, schools and life aren't meant to be safe places where our feelings are not challenged, where our esteem is not bruised, where our sins are not confronted by God's Spirit. Every Sunday I go forth weeping to plant seed that is precious, praying for the joy of the harvest. Lord, make it so!
Sowing in the sunshine, sowing in the shadows
Fearing neither clouds nor winter's chilling breeze
By and by the harvest, and the labor ended
We will come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves!