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 Let the Lower Lights be Burning

by Phillip P. Bliss, 1838-1876


The “lower lights” (the lights at ground level: city lights, etc.) surrounding a lighthouse are distinctive and accomplish two things: they help to identify the particular lighthouse at night when the color pattern of the lighthouse cannot be seen and they give the boat pilot more visual references to use as he approaches the harbor, thus increasing safety. 


One day, while traveling with Dwight L. Moody as his musician for an evangelistic campaign, Phillip Bliss was impressed by an illustration used by Mr. Moody in a message:


On a dark, stormy night on Lake Erie, when the waves rolled like mountains and not a star was to be seen, a boat, rocking and plunging, neared the Cleveland harbor.  “Are you sure this is Cleveland?” asked the Captain, seeing only light from the lighthouse.

“Quite sure, sir,” replied the boat pilot.

“Where are the lower lights?”

“Gone out, sir!”

“Can you make the harbor?”

“We must or perish, sir.”

With a strong hand and brave heart the old pilot turned the wheel, But alas, in the darkness, and without the lower lights he missed the channel, and with a crash upon the rocks, the boat was slivered to pieces and many a life was lost in a watery grave.


“Brethren,” concluded Mr. Moody, “the Master will take care of the great lighthouse.  Let us keep the lower lights burning.”


Bliss was born in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, on July 9, 1838.  As a boy he spent his days on a farm or in a lumber camp, where he experienced severe poverty.  At an early age, young bliss displayed unusual talent and interest in sacred music.  Although never receiving formal training, his self-study made him a knowledgeable and proficient musician. 


He first met Dwight L. Moody in Chicago, during the summer of 1869, and soon began singing, frequently, in Moody’s campaigns.  The effectiveness of Bliss’ singing in these services intensified Moody’s conviction of the importance of music in an evangelistic ministry.