Biographical Sketch of Christopher Knapp
A brief account of the life and labors of
The following is based on an account, written on request of others, by Mr Knapp's
youngest son, Thomas, as well as input from the late Carl Armerding
Knapp's parents, German immigrants, settled on a truck farm in the Albany NY area. He was one of five sons and a daughter and was brought up under the nominal Christian influence of Calvinistic Reformed theology. Born June 6, 1870, it is therefore not surprising that in 1889, at 19 years old, he went west to study for the Presbyterian ministry in South Bend, Indiana.
While in South Bend, he attended meetings at the YMCA (which in those days incuded “gospel” meetings) and there came to truly know the Lord Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour. Years later, writing of his conversion in a tract entitled,
"Main Street, and What It Means To Me", Knapp said:
"About the first place I made for after finding a boarding house was the
C" stood for something in those days. There, prayer 'was wont to be made',
the Scriptures were honored and studied, souls were sought after.
"Aquaintances there were quickly made, . . . and one notable day one of these
proposed a walk. We stepped out on Main Street together, and after going a few
blocks my companion suddenly turned to me with the question, 'Knapp, are you a Christian?'
The question neither surprized nor offended me; it was a perfectly natural one, I thought
(and so I still believe). So I answered frankly, 'No, I am not.' 'Well, you ought to be,'
he said. This I acknowledged. 'Well', he continued, 'Don't put it off: Life is too
uncertain!' Then he told a searching story of a sudden death, which, under
the Holy Spirit's convicting power, turned my heart.
"Yes, standing there on the pavement on Main Street under the blue spreading sky of that glorious
19th day of June, I submitted myself to Christ, I received Him as my Saviour, and in that act of
faith, I passed from death unto life."
Coming into contact with a company of Christians sometimes referred to as “Plymouth Brethren”, Knapp gave up his purpose of becoming a Presbyterian Minister, and identified himself with that particular group of believers.
As a young man of vigorous strength and zeal for spreading the Glad Tidings of the grace of God, he soon began evangelizing wherever the Lord opened doors and sent him. Thus began a life of complete, simple dependence upon the Lord for His sustenance of bread, clothes, lodging or travel expense.
Among the places of his early travels was Rochester, NY and, later, Minneapolis, MN. In Trout Brook MN, a small farming community, his gospel preaching was particularly effective, and a number were converted in the middle 1890's. A century later, an assembly of believers related to his early work still exists.
At the turn of the century, Knapp went to the Bahamas and opened up Christ to the folk of these islands — both black and white — who came to have fond appreciation for him (Proverbs 10:7). While preaching here and across the straits of Florida in Miami and Key West, he met his future wife, Helena Johnson (formerly of the Bahamas), and they married on June 3, 1904.
Somewhat amazingly, he took this
"Sunshine State" lady to the cold winter of Black Cape, on the southern shore of the Gaspe Peninsula, Quebec, Canada, where there were a number of Scottish settlements. She had never before seen snow, but willingly went. There, the following year, her first child, Helena, was born, almost at the cost of her life. This daughter lived until reaching 98 years of age, before being called home to be with her Lord.
A short time of laboring, accompanied by his wife and infant daughter, in Brownsburg-LaChute, Quebec, followed. Like a true evangelist, he soon moved on — to Cumberland Ontario, some miles south of Ottawa on the Ottawa River. From there, his labors took him to Napanee, Ontario, near Kingston, on the St Lawrence River.
There, gospel outreach resulted in a number saved and God being glorified in triumph over the power of Satan, sin and self. The following incident will illustrate that.
A farm family, the Hahns, had several girls, and one night Knapp overheard one of these girls refusing to accompany her parents to the Gospel meeting. On returning from the meeting, he approached her about it, asking her if she ever refused the request of her friends to go skating. "No," she said. "Why not?" he asked. "Because I
like to to go skating," was her reply. He told her that he would pray that the day would come when she would
like to go to the gospel meeting. She wrote him later to say that that came about. Such are the wonderful ways of God.
Continuing on in his labors for the Lord, he next was found in Bethlehem PA, preaching the Gospel along with Dr. Harry Ironside. Again, a number recognised their need and confessed the Lord. Here, too, the Knapp’s second child, a son, was born in 1908. This son went on to become Admiral Chris Knapp, of the US Coast Guard, and was known as “the Bible Admiral”.
His restless spirit soon moved him to a foreign field, what was then called Spanish Honduras (now simply Honduras), settling in the city of San Pedro Sula. This was his second trip to that place.
On the previous trip, he been detained by ship repairs at Georgetown in the Grand Cayman Islands. While there, he preached on the beach during his two week stay and there resulted a great awakening among the local inhabitants, including not a few “dead” church members. When he left, the local elders of the church wrote an appreciating letter of thanks for his being used of God among them.
While in Honduras with his family — now increased by three daughters born to them there (Margaret, Martha and Gertrude) — his indefatigable labors took him to almost every town of that poor Central American country. His co-laborers in Honduras were Groh (United States) and Hocking (England) and Miss Fannie Arthur of Harrisburg PA. Fannie died very early on the mission field.
Knapp contracted Malaria and would have died, but for the Lord's mercy and a move out of Honduras to a cooler, yet not cold, climate in Zephyrhills, Florida. A young American brother in the Lord, Carl Armerding, came down to help the family move and stayed on for a while. Shortly after, Groh moved out, then Armerding, leaving only Hocking to carry on the work.
While for a time no visible fruit appeared, the seed took root and sprung up, resulting in some twenty-five assemblies of Christians being established, the remainder of which are today in fellowship with so-called "open" (or independent) brethren. (Ecclesiastes 11:1,6 and Psalm 126:6) All this, with the Lord's gracious blessing, resulted from "labors abundant" and illustrates 2 Timothy 2:6 (JND).
During the time Knapp was laid up with malarial fever, he was of course curtailed in travels but continued to labor some in the area of Tampa-Zephyrhills. However fruitful the work in the South, he was not one to rest on his laurels. He moved back North to the area of his birth, Albany, New York, settling in a suburb called Elsmere (Delmar Township). Here the last two children, sons Phillip “David” (who went down on the Cruiser Vincennes on August 9, 1942 in the
Battle for the Solomons, WWII) and Thomas, were born in 1918 and 1928, respectively.
From this place, he would bicycle up into the beautiful Heldeberg Mountains ridge district, to the back hill towns, distributing tracts to all who would receive them. Eternity alone will reveal the results. There was no outward, visible fruit at the time, except of course that the Name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. (2 Corinthians 2:14-17).
While engaged in gospel effort, brother Knapp was very careful to see to it that any saved were properly shepherded and taught the Scripture of Truth, with him warning them of pitfalls — both doctrinal and moral. The coming of the Lord for His church and, later, with His church in judgement of the world were faithfully set forth. But the driving motive of his ministry was
Christ's glory, above all.
Sad difficulties, both local and general, entered in at times among the Christians with whom he fellowshipped, but he did not shirk his responsibilities to voice his convictions and stand to them at all cost. And cost it did, being forsaken by many dear friends in the faith who compromised for the sake of peace and false unity.
Gifted as a gospel teacher, he was able to fulfill some of the followup work. Thus, he also moved about among the churches edifying, exhorting and comforting. This took him as far west as Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois, as well as along the eastern seaboard.
As a “vessel of clay”, he was of course not without personal faults and idiosyncrasies. Sometimes he stumbled on the path, but, like David of old, he sought nothing but Christ. (see 2 Samuel 23:1-5).
A stroke in 1938 crippled him and made impossible the previous level of activity, though he made a partial recovery. In 1942 he left the fellowship of the so-called “Exclusive” Plymouth Brethren and thereafter fellowshipped with the so-called “Open” (Independent) Brethren Movement.
His homecall came on May 19, 1945, just as World War II in Europe was ending, a pleasant parallel to the end of a spiritual conflict. Now he "rests from his labors and his works do follow" (Revelation 14:13).
In all our feeble efforts, we can say "Thou hast wrought all our works in us", and, "It is God Who worketh in us both the willing and the doing of His good pleasure."
All praise and thanks be unto Him!!
Thomas J. Knapp (edited by Richard K Gorgas, Mr Knapp's eldest grandson and David Gorgas, youngest grandson of Mr Knapp’s daughter, Margaret Gorgas)