Today’s Word from Minister of Music Karl Olsen…
Philip Paul Bliss, raised by his parents in a log cabin, but without much schooling except for his father’s music and mother’s lessons, left his Ashtabula, Ohio home in the 1830s at the age of 11, and worked on farms and in lumber camps to earn a living. His father having been a Methodist minister, Philip always had been in the church, but he officially claimed his Christian faith at the age of 12 during a revival meeting.
He spent some of his earnings from his labor on general education, but musical education as well. He began writing songs as a teenager (exchanged his first composition for a flute!), and at age 17, decided to finish his credentials for teaching. Meeting others in music, he developed his fine singing voice and was convinced to be a music teacher and composer.
At 21, he married a young singer, Lucy. He worked on her father’s farm and became an itinerant music teacher, traveling farm to farm by horse. After much further study, Bliss became recognized as a professional musician and prolific composer. After moving to Chicago in 1864, he was released from the draft at the end of the Civil War, and began work for a music publisher. He met evangelist Dwight Moody, who convinced him to become a singing evangelist.
Listening to Moody preach a sermon, he heard this line: “The Master will take care of the great lighthouse. Let us keep the lower lights burning.” The large light in a lighthouse is seen for many miles. The lower lights surrounding a lighthouse guide the vessels in the harbor away from the rocks and safely into the channel. In one sitting, Bliss put this idea into the hymn that we know today—Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy, also known as Let the Lower Lights Be Burning. His popularity and fame was growing.
After joining forces with his friend and evangelist, Daniel Whittle, Philip committed his life and his earnings from his work to their shared ministry. A highly successful career on the revival circuit and several published books later, he joined with Moody again and sang his new song, It Is Well With My Soul.
After a family Christmas, 1876, leaving their two children with his mother, Philip and Lucy headed back to Chicago. Traveling in a snowstorm, the train crossed a trestle, which collapsed and plunged all but the first engine into the ravine and icy waters below. Fire broke out and consumed every car.
Philip escaped through a window, but finding his wife was trapped within, he returned to the car to stay with her, and both died in the flames. Their bodies were never identified. Bliss was 38 years old. The crash became known as the “Ashtabula Bridge Disaster.” (Click HEREto learn more).
A song service was held in his memory, attended by 8,000 people in the hall and another 4,000 outside. In times of crisis or trouble—or pandemic—may we keep the lower lights burning, just as others have kept them lit for us. Today’s version of the song is coupled with another song, Shine on Me, and is a recording from the maritime group, The Shifty Sailors, on their maiden voyage album Heave Ho, My Lads. Click HERE to Enjoy!