The Gospel Songs of Philip Paul Bliss
by Wayne S. Walker
Philip Paul Bliss was born in a log cabin near Rome in Clearfield County, Pennsylvannia, on July 9, 1838. Always interested in music, he was carrying items from his family's home into town to sell and heard a lady playing the piano in a house along the way. Walking into the house without her knowledge, he asked her to play some more after she had stopped but he was ordered to leave. His family was poor, and at age eleven he left home to work on farms and in lumber camps. The following year he joined the Baptist Church at Elk Run, Pennsylvannia, and began studying music. His first instruction was under J. G. Towner, the father of hymn composer Daniel Brink Towner. Also he attended a music convention conducted by hymn composer William Batchelder Bradbury. Then in 1859, he married Lucy J. Young of Rome, Pennsylvannia, and for a year afterwards worked on his father-in-law's farm. Beginning in 1860, with the help of his horse, Old Fanny, a ramshackle buggy, and a $20 melodeon, he rode about rural Pennsylvania as a professional music teacher, conducting singing schools in the winter and continuing his own music education during the summers at the Normal Academy of Music at Geneseo, New York, conducted by Theodore E. Perkins and others.
In 1864, at age 26, Bliss wrote his first song, called "Lora Vale," and sold it to the famous Chicago, Illinois, publishing firm of Root and Cady. This song was such a hit that the company induced him to come to the Windy City where he held music conventions and gave concerts. Though he was associated with Root and Cady for four years, he cared little for popular music. Instead he wanted to write hymns, and his association with two Chicago evangelists caused him to give up his music teaching and begin providing hymns for their crusades. One was Dwight Lyman Moody, and the other, for whom Bliss became music director, was Moody's companion Daniel Webster Whittle. Over the next eight years, Bliss became one of the foremost gospel musicians in the nation, often basing his hymns on stories told by Moody, Whittle, and other preachers. At first he furnished many songs for the sacred collections of George Frederick Root. Afterwards, he went on to publish several hymnbooks of his own and others in collaboration with his co-worker Ira David Sankey.
While at age 25 Bliss had been an impoverished music teacher making on $13 a month, by 36 he was earning a fortune with royalties being counted in the tens of thousands of dollars. However, he gave much of it away to charity. In 1876, after a grueling fall revival schedule, Mr. and Mrs. Bliss spent the Christmas holiday with their family in Rome, Pennsylvannia. Leaving the children in Rome, the couple left for Chicago and an engagement at Moody's tabernacle. On Dec. 29, while they were riding their Chicago-bound express through Ohio, the bridge over a ravine near Ashtabula gave way, and seven cars crashed through the trestle, plunging into the icy riverbed below and bursting into flame. Bliss survived the fall, escaped through a window, and crawled from the wreckage. However, when he did not see his wife, he fought his way back through the fire into the burning mass in a vain effort to locate and rescue her. Both of them perished in the flames, along with 100 other people. Bliss was just 38 years old when he died.
For the most part, Bliss produced both words and music for most of his songs
A song which emphasizes that the invitation to come and take of the water of life freely is extended to everyone is "Whosoever Will." During the winter of 1869 the English evangelist Henry Moorhouse conducted a series of meetings in Chicago and for seven consecutive services preached on the text John 3:16. Bliss attended these services, and may have even participated as song leader. From his experience in hearing these lessons, which gave Bliss a new, clearer view of the love of God, came "Whosoever Will." It was first published in George Frederick Root's The Prize, published in 1870 by John Church and Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio. Four years later, Bliss included it in his own Gospel Songs. The song resounds with the universal nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Stanza 1 talks about the universal need.
"'Whosoever heareth,' shout, shout the sound!
Spread the blessed tidings all the world around;
Tell the joyful news wherever man is found:
'Whosoever will may come.'"
Whosoever hears should shout the sound to others that the works of God might be declared to the people (Isaiah 12:4-6). The blessed tidings of good things that result in salvation should be spread to all the world around (Romans 10:13-15). The joyful news should be told wherever man is found because Jesus wants the gospel to be preached to every creature under heaven (Mark 16:15-16).
Stanza 2 talks about the universal invitation.
"Whosoever cometh need not delay;
Now the door is open, enter while you may.
Jesus is the true, the only Living Way:
'Whosoever will may come.'"
The invitation is to all who are weary and heavy laden to come to Jesus that they might find rest (Matthew 11:28-30). Those who decide to come should not delay but rather enter while the door is open (Revelation 3:19-20). We must remember that this invitation is based on the fact that Jesus is the true and only living way (John 14:6).
Stanza 3 talks about the universal blessings.
"'Whosoever will!' The promise secure;
'Whosoever will' forever must endure;
'Whosoever will!' 'tis life forevermore;
'Whosoever will may come.'"
For those who will come to Jesus, the promise that God offers us through His Son is secure (II Peter 1:3-4). However, this promise is not unconditional because those who have the promise must endure to receive its ultimate fulfilment (Hebrews 6:13-15). This promise is the hope of life evermore, or everlasting life, with God in heaven for all eternity (I John 2:25).
The chorus reiterates the fact that the call of the gospel to come for salvation is to the whole world.
"'Whosoever will, whosoever will!'
Send the proclamation over vale and hill;
'Tis a loving Father calls the wanderer home:
'Whosoever will may come.'
It is good to know that our God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance, so that His grace which brings salvation has appeared to all men. Knowing, therefore, that He wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth, we should be active in proclaiming the good news of salvation to "Whosever Will."
Jesus Loves Even Me
A song which rejoices in and gives honor to Christ for the love that He has shown to us is "Jesus Loves Even Me." It was produced in June of 1870. Mr. and Mrs. Bliss were staying in the home of Major Daniel W. Whittle at Chicago, Illinois. Bliss said that the words were suggested to him by hearing the chorus of the hymn, "O how I love Jesus," repeated frequently in a meeting which he had attended. After he had sung it a number of times, the thought came to him that he had been singing enough about his poor love for Jesus and needed to sing more of Jesus's great love for us. Under the impulse of this idea, he went home and came up with a new hymn. The next morning, Mrs. Bliss came down to the breakfast table and said that her husband had set forth a new tune which she thought would live and be one of his most useful because she had been singing it all morning and could not get it out of her mind. She sang the notes to the Whittles. Later, Bliss told them that his idea was to bring out the truth that the peace and comfort of a Christian are not founded so much upon his love to Christ as upon Christ's love to him. The song was first published in Bliss's 1871 book The Charm for Sunday Schools. The copyright was renewed in 1902 by the John Church Co., indicating that the song was actually copyrighted in 1874. The text is sometimes ascribed to Emily Sullivan Oakley (1829-1933). Emily Oakley did produce some words for which Bliss provided music but most other works give Bliss the sole credit for the song. It talks about some of the results of Jesus's love for us.
Stanza 1 tells us that Jesus's love is revealed in the Bible.
"I am so glad that our Father in heaven
Tells of His love in the Book He has given.
Wonderful things in the Bible I see;
This is the dearest, that Jesus loves me."
Christians can look upon God as "our Father in heaven" (Matthew 6:9). This Father has given us a Book, the scriptures, in which He has told us everything we need to know about Him (II Timothy 3:16-17). In this Book, also called the Bible, we can see wondrous things about our God (Psalms 119:18).
Stanza 2 says that Jesus's love calls us back to Him.
"Though I forget Him and wander away,
Still He doth love me wherever I stray;
Back to His dear loving arms would I flee,
When I remember that Jesus loves me."
The fact is that all responsible human beings have wandered away (Isaiah 53:6). However, even when we have strayed, He still loves us and calls us to come to Him (Matthew 9:13). Therefore, He has made a way where by we can flee from sin and return to Him (I Peter 2:24-25).
Stanza 3 reminds us that Jesus's love made possible our redemption.
"Jesus loves me, and I know I love Him;
Love brought Him down my poor soul to redeem.
Yes, it was love made Him die on the tree;
O, I am certain that Jesus loves me."
Jesus loved us enough to give Himself as a sacrifice for us (Ephesians 5:2). His purpose in doing this was to redeem our souls from sin (Ephesians 1:7). Therefore, He was willing to die on the tree, suffering for sin, the just for the unjust (I Peter 3:18).
Stanza 4 tells us that Jesus's love enables us to have the Holy Spirit.
"If one should ask of me, how can I tell?
Glory to Jesus, I know very well!
God's Holy Spirit with mine doth agree,
Constantly witnessing Jesus loves me."
Sometimes people ask us a reason of the hope that is within us (I Peter 3.15). Because He loves us, Jesus has made it possible for us to know whether we are saved by what has been written (I John 5.13). As part of this process, the Holy Spirit bears witnesses with (not to) our spirit that we are children of God (Romans 8.16).
Stanza 5 says that Jesus's love gives us sweetest rest
"In this assurance I find sweetest rest;
Trusting in Jesus I know I am blessed;
Satan, dismayed, from my soul now doth flee,
When I just tell him that Jesus loves me."
When we come to Jesus and receive the benefits of His love, He gives us rest (Matthew 11:28-30). Then we are truly blessed because all spiritual blessings are found in Him (Ephesians 1:3). With this assurance, we can resist the devil and he will flee from us (James 4:7).
Stanza 6 reminds us that Jesus's love will be the song of the righteous in heaven
"O there is only one song I can sing,
When in His beauty I see the great King;
This shall my song in eternity be:
'O what a wonder that Jesus loves me."
The righteous in their ultimate victory are pictured as singing a song in praise of the Lamb (Revelation 15:3). This victory will be achieved when we see our great King as He is (I John 3:2). The song will be how Jesus so loved us that He was slain and redeemed us by His blood (Revelation 5:9).
The chorus continues to emphasize the importance of Jesus's love for us.
"I am so glad that Jesus loves me,
Jesus loves me, Jesus loves me,
I am so glad that Jesus loves me,
Jesus loves even me."
When think about the fact that I have sinned and am not worthy of salvation, yet Jesus was willing to leave heaven, come to earth, and die for my sins as a sacrifice so that I could have forgiveness, I must marvel at the fact that "Jesus Loves Even Me."
A song which warns us of the dangers of following in the footsteps of King Agrippa, who said "...Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian..." (Acts 26:28), is "Almost Persuaded." Produced in the very early 1870's when Bliss stopped over in a small Eastern town and, while waiting for his connecting train to Chicago, Illinois, slipped into a nearby church building where he heard a minister named Mr. Brundage preach a lesson on King Agrippa, it was first published in his 1871 collection The Charm, compiled for John Church and Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio. This is one of Bliss's best known, popular, and effective invitation hymns.
The 1st stanza tells us that the Spirit wants us to be persuaded to believe.
"'Almost persuaded' now to believe;
'Almost persuaded' Christ to receive.
Seems now some soul to say,
'Go, Spirit, go Thy way;
Some more convenient day
On Thee I'll call."
We must believe in God (Hebrews 11:6). We must also believe in Christ (John 8:24, Acts 16:30-31, Romans 10:9-10). But how do we come to believe? (John 20:30-31, Romans 10:17); it is not by some direct operation of the Holy Spirit on our hearts, but through the written word, which is the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17).
The 2nd stanza tells us that Jesus invites us to be persuaded to come to Him.
"'Almost persuaded,' come, come today;
'Almost persuaded,' turn not away;
Jesus invites you here,
Angels are lingering near,
Prayers rise from hearts so dear,
O wanderer, come."
Jesus wants us to come to Him for salvation (Matthew 11:28-30). But how do we come to Jesus?--we must be drawn by God through being taught, hearing, and learning His word (John 6:44-45). So this indicates that coming to Jesus is more than just a mental acknowledgement of Him as Savior; it means that we must obey Him (Hebrews 5:8-9).
The 3rd stanza tells us that God calls us to be persuaded to be saved.
"'Almost persuaded,' harvest is past!
'Almost persuaded,' doom comes at last!
"'Almost' cannot avail;
'Almost' is but to fail;
Sad, sad that bitter wail--
God desires that all people be saved (I Timothy 2:3-4); as a result, He's made all the provisions necessary for everyone to have salvation through Christ, and has revealed those provisions in the word of truth. Two basic things are necessary on our part to be saved; the first is belief, as discussed in stanza 1 (John 3:16). The other is coming to Christ in obedience to His will, as seen in stanza 2 (Mark 16:15-16).
In order to have all the benefit of God's spiritual blessings in Christ, one must be a Christian. Unfortunately, when it comes to being a Christian, too many people who would like to receive these blessings are not willing to do what God says they must do to receive them. Thus, to those who are not yet Christians, we would encourage them not to be like Agrippa and just be "Almost Persuaded."
Let the Lower Lights Be Burning
A hymn which encourages us to let our lights shine before men is "Let The Lower Lights Be Burning." This song was suggested by a story which Moody told. "On a dark, stormy night, 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 one light from the lighthouse. 'Quite sure, sir,' replied the pilot. 'Where are the lower lights?' 'Gone out, sir.' 'Can you make the harbor?' 'We must, or perish, sir!' And with a strong hand and a brave heart, the old pilot turned the wheel. But alas, in the darkness he missed the channel, and with a crash upon the rocks the boat was shivered, and many a life lost in a watery grave. Brethren, the Master will take care of the great lighthouse; let us keep the lower lights burning!" The song was first published in The Charm, a Collection of Sunday School Music, which Bliss compiled in 1871 for John Church and Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio. The song talks about the importance of letting our lights shine to help others.
According to the first stanza, God's mercy is the great light to guide us.
"Brightly beams our Father's mercy
From the lighthouse evermore;
But to us He gives the keeping
Of the lights along the shore."
It is by the mercy of God that we are saved (Ephesians 2:4-8, Titus 3:5). This mercy is pictured as light pouring from a lighthouse, because God is light and we must walk in His light to find salvation and heaven (I John 1:5-7). But God gives His people the responsibility of reflecting His light so that they can be like the "lower lights" to help people find the right way (Philippians 2:12-16).
According to the second stanza, sin is the great darkness that requires our lights.
"Dark the night of sin has settled,
Loud the angry billows roar;
Eager eyes are watching, longing,
For the lights along the shore."
Throughout the Bible, sin is pictured as darkness and night (Ephesians 5:11, I Thessalonians 5:5). And as it is with ships sailing along the shore during a storm, the angry billows could represent anything, such as the lusts of the flesh, the doctrines of men, and the desires of this life, which would toss souls to and fro and drown them in destruction and perdition (Ephesians 4:14, I Timothy 6:9). And there may well be souls who are looking for lights to help them cast their anchors both sure and steadfast so that they can find refuge from the storm (Hebrews 6:18-20).
According to the third stanza, being such lights is the great responsibility that we have.
"Trim your feeble lamp, my brother;
Some poor seaman, tempest tossed,
Trying now to make the harbor,
In the darkness may be lost."
Trimming a lamp is part of the process of making it ready to do its work, and would represent preparing our lives so that we can be ready for service to the Master, as the wise virgins did (Matthew 25:1-13). "Some poor seaman tempest tossed" would refer to all those whose lives are being buffeted by the waves of lust, temptation, and sin while sailing in the darkness of this world (Romans 3:23, James 1:13-15). And if there is not some light there to help guide them to the harbor of safety, they will be lost--forever (Romans 6:23, Revelation 21:8).
The chorus reemphasizes the need for us to keep our lamps ready and burning.
"Let the lower lights be burning!
Send a gleam across the wave!
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman,
You may rescue, you may save."
Of course, we realize that the only true spiritual light comes from God's word (Psalms 119:105). But the way that we shine that light for others is to make sure that our lives are good examples of the teaching of God's word (I Timothy 4:12), and to look for opportunities to teach that word to others (II Timothy 2:2). Therefore, each child of God must recognize his own personal responsibility to "Let The Lower Lights Be Burning."
More Holiness Give Me
A song which encourages us to perfect holiness and asks God for His help in doing so is "More Holiness Give Me." It first appeared under the title "My Prayer" in the author's second collection of hymns, Sunshine for the Sunday Schools, published in 1873 by the John Church Music Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio. The song makes several practical suggestions on how to be more holy.
Stanza 1 looks inward to our own hearts.
"More holiness give me,
More strivings within,
More patience in suffering,
More sorrow for sin,
More faith in my Savior,
More sense of His care,
More joy in His service,
More purpose in prayer."
One thing necessary to perfecting holiness is to look within and, knowing that we shall face suffering in this life, work to develop more patience in our tribulations (James 1:2-4). Something that will help in developing patience is to walk by faith in the Savior and thus be aware of His constant care for us (II Corinthians 5:7, I Peter 5:7). Other characteristics that will assist in developing patience is to have joy in the service of the Lord and continually going to Him in prayer to cast our cares upon Him (Philippians 4:4-6).
Stanza 2 looks upward in gratitude and trust to the Lord.
"More gratitude give me,
More trust in the Lord,
More praise for His glory,
More hope in His word,
More tears for His sorrows,
More pain at His grief,
More meekness in trial,
More praise for relief."
As we look up in gratitude and trust to the Lord, we will want to praise His glory because our hope is in His word (Acts 20:32, I Peter 1:3-5). This hope is possible because of His sorrows and grief in His death for our sins (Romans 5:8, I Corinthians 15:3). Our remembrance of His suffering should motivate us to exhibit more meekness in our trials as well (Romans 5:3-4).
Stanza 3 looks outward to the kind of purity and strength that would be a good influence on others.
"More purity give me,
More strength to o'ercome,
More freedom from earthstains,
More longings for home,
More fit for the kingdom,
More useful I'd be,
More blessed and holy,
More, Savior, like Thee."
In order to be an influence for good on others, we must keep ourselves unspotted from the world with the knowledge that we are but pilgrims and strangers here who are looking for a better home (James 1:27, I Peter 2:11-12). When we practice such principles in our lives, then we shall be more fit for use in the Master's kingdom (II Timothy 2.20-21). But the most important thing that we need to remember in trying to be a good influence for Jesus is that He wants us to be like Him (I Peter 2:21-23).
The evident purpose of this song is to cause us to aspire to better lives and service before the Lord. It is a hymn that every Christian would do well to commit to memory and meditate upon from time to time, especially when we are tempted to be less than what Christ wants us to be. Because Jesus died for me and wants me to live with Him forever in heaven, my request throughout life to Him should be, "More Holiness Give Me."
Dare to Be a Daniel
A song which exhorts us to be faithful unto Jesus all of our lives in the same way that Daniel purposed not to defile himself is "Dare to Be a Daniel." The song was produced for Bliss's Sunday school class at the First Congregational Church of Chicago, Illinois. It was copyrighted in 1873 by John C. Church Co. and appeared in Ira D. Sankey's 1894 Gospel Hymns Nos. 1-6 Complete. The song encourages us to have purpose and dedication as we live for the Lord.
Stanza 1 tells us what to do.
"Standing by a purpose true,
Heeding God's command,
Honor them, the faithful few!
All hail to Daniel's band!"
Daniel's band must be standing (I Corinthians 16:13). Daniel's band must be heeding God's command (I John 5:3). Daniel's band must be faithful (Revelation 2:10).
Stanza 2 tells us why we need to be brave.
"Many mighty men are lost,
Daring not to stand,
Who for God had been a host,
By joining Daniel's band."
Physical might does not necessarily make one strong in the Lord, because not many mighty are called (I Corinthians 1:26-28). Whether one is mighty in the Lord or not depends on whether he dares to stand (Ephesians 6:11-13). Only by being part of Daniel's band can we be a host of good soldiers for Jesus Christ (II Timothy 2:3-4).
Stanza 3 tells us what we can accomplish.
"Many giants, great and tall,
Stalking through the land,
Headlong to the earth would fall,
If met by Daniel's band."
The reference is evidently to Goliath, the giant of the Philistines who taunted Israel (I Samuel 17:4-8). Today, there are many "giants" stalking through the land, opposing God's people, such as all kinds of human philosophies and empty deceits of this world (Colossians 2:8). However, those who stand with Daniel's band can meet them and have victory over them (I John 5:4).
Stanza 4 tells us how to go about our task.
"Hold the gospel banner high!
On to victory grand!
Satan and His host defy,
And shout for Daniel's band."
Daniel's band must hold the gospel banner high because it is God's power to salvation (Romans 1:16). Only those who stay with Daniel's band will have the victory that God gives through Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 15:57). To say that Satan and his host "shout for Daniel's band" does not mean that they are shouting in order to call Daniel's band to come, but that they are shouting because of Daniel's band showing their fear, because Daniel's band will resist the devil (James 4:7).
The chorus repeats the importance of following the example of Daniel and thus being in his band.
"Dare to be a Daniel,
Dare to stand alone!
Dare to have a purpose firm!
Dare to make it known!"
Some people might dismiss this song as fit only for children's Bible classes and not feel that it would be appropriate for a general worship service. Each person will have to decide what he thinks about this, and each congregation will have to make its own judgment. However, whether he is young or old, every Christian should strive to be faithful in his service to Jesus Christ and "Dare to Be a Daniel."
Hallelujah, 'Tis Done!
A song which points out the need to be conscious of God as the source of salvation and eternal life which He has promised is "Hallelujah, 'Tis Done." Ira David Sankey wrote that when Bliss was compiling his book Gospel Songs (No. 1) in 1874, he desired to include in it the well known hymn, "Hallelujah! Thine The Glory" ("Revive Us Again"), which was then much used in religious services. However, the owners of the copyright refused, so he produced "Hallelujah, 'Tis Done" to replace it. However, some sources say its first appearance was in Bliss's Gospel Hymns No. 2 of 1876. The song praises God for making salvation from sin and eternal life possible through Christ.
Stanza 1 speaks of God's promise of salvation in this life.
"'Tis the promise of God full salvation to give
Unto him who on Jesus His Son will believe."
God has made many exceedingly great and precious promises to us (II Peter 1:3). One of those promises is to offer full salvation to sinful mankind (Hebrews 7:25). Some have changed this stanza to read, "Unto him who on Jesus will truly believe." I appreciate the attempt to remove the possibility that some might misunderstand the song to mean salvation by faith only, but the fact is that the term "believe" is often used in the complete sense to include our response of obedience to God's plan, just as Jesus Himself said, "Whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).
Stanza 2 speaks of God's provisions for the saved in this life.
"Though the pathway be lonely, and dangerous too,
Surely Jesus is able to carry me through."
Sometimes the saved will find that the pathway is lonely because, as Paul found out, others will not stand with them (II Timothy 4:16). The path may be dangerous too because the devil goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (I Peter 5:8). However, Jesus is able to carry us through because it is possible to be kept by faith through the power of God unto the salvation ready to be revealed at the last time (I Peter 3:5).
Stanza 3 speaks of loved ones whom the saved hope to see in the heavenly throng.
"Many loved ones have I in yon heavenly throng;
They are safe now in glory, and this is their song:"
Some object to singing about "loved ones" in heaven; we recognize that if we have "loved ones" who are not in Christ, they will not be among the saved, but many of us have physical "loved ones" who are faithful Christians, and I would assume that most Christians have among the brethren those who, though not physically related, are considered their "loved ones," and we do hope to be reunited with them (I Thessalonians 4:16-17). Others object to singing that the saved are now in the heavenly throng believing, as I do, that the spirits of the departed saints are now in paradise in Hades and not in heaven, the dwelling place of God itself; however, the word "heaven" can be thought of in this sense as "the heavenly places" which refer to the spiritual realm, and in this sense those who are asleep in Jesus are among the "heavenly throng" who have been redeemed and await the consummation of all things (Revelation 7:9-17). The word "glory" here refers to the eternal glorified state with God to which the righteous have been called (I Peter 5:10).
Stanza 4 speaks of little children who are sinless and safe.
"Little children I see standing close by their King,
And He smiles as their song of salvation they sing."
We can expect to see little children in heaven because those who are converted must become as little children, thus implying that little children are sinless and safe (Matthew 18:3-4). Such little children will stand close by their King just as the child whom Jesus called and set by Him to teach the disciples a lesson on humility (Luke 22:46-48). Jesus will smile upon them even as He put His hands on them and blessed them while He was on earth (Matthew 19:13-15).
Stanza 5 speaks of the prophets and kings who have been saved.
"There are prophets and kings in that throng I behold,
And they sing as they march through the streets of pure gold:"
The saved can rejoice in their persecutions because the prophets who came before them and will have the same reward were likewise persecuted (Matthew 5:11-12). While not many noble are called, there will be some kings in heaven, such as David who is called a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22). These will sing as they march through the street(s) of pure gold (Revelation 21:21).
Stanza 6 speaks of the hope that all the saved have in heaven
"There's a part in that chorus for you and for me,
And the theme of our praises forever will be:"
A grand chorus is pictured as surrounding the throne of God (Revelation 4:8-11). There can be a part in that chorus for each of us because the promise is "Whosoever will, may come" (Revelation 22:17). And the theme of that chorus will be, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain" (Revelation 5:8-12).
The chorus reemphasizes the salvation that God makes available through the blood of His Son.
"Hallelujah, 'tis done! I believe on the Son;
I am saved by the blood of the crucified One."
When we think of the great salvation that God offers us through Jesus Christ and His sacrifice upon the cross, we can say now, even as we shall say in eternity, "Hallelujah, 'Tis Done!"
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
A hymn which identifies Christ as the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy concerning a man of sorrows and points to many of the consequences of this fact is, "Hallelujah! What A Savior!" No information is available concerning any background story for this song. This particular hymn was first published in an 1875 issue of International Lessons Monthly. Its first hymnbook inclusion was in Gospel Hymns No. 2 of 1876. The song talks about several aspects of the suffering of Christ.
Stanza 1 says that the purpose of His suffering was to save sinners.
"'Man of Sorrows,' what a name
For the Son of God who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim!
Hallelujah! what a Savior!"
The word translated "sorrows" literally means pains; Jesus knew that He would "suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes" (Matthews 16:21). Yet, He was the Son of God who came and was willing to do this (Matthew 16:16). Why? The reason was to reclaim ruined sinners (Luke 19:10).
Stanza 2 says that the nature of His suffering was that it was in our place.
"Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood,
Sealed my pardon with His blood;
Hallelujah! what a Savior!"
In His suffering, He bore shame and scoffing rude (Matthew 26:39-44, Hebrews 12:2). Yet, He did this so that He could stand in our place -- He died for sinners (Romans 5:8, I Corinthians 15:3). And therefore, He sealed our pardon with His blood (Ephesians 1:7).
Stanza 3 says that the reason for His suffering is that we are guilty
"Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
'Full atonement!' can it be?
Hallelujah! what a Savior!"
We are guilty because we have sinned (Romans 3:23; I John 1:8). In contrast, He is the Spotless Lamb of God (John 1:29; I Peter 1:18-19). And because He suffered for us, we can have full atonement or reconciliation (Romans 5:11).
Stanza 4 says that the end or goal of His suffering was to die for us.
"Lifted up was He to die;
'It is finished,' was His cry;
Now in heaven exalted high,
Hallelujah! what a Savior!"
He was lifted up to die (John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32-34; Philippians 2:5-8). Because His death did have a specific purpose, He cried, "It is finished" (John 19:30). But now, He is in heaven, exalted high (Acts 1:9-11; Ephesians 1:20-21; Philippians 2:9-11).
Stanza 5 says that the result of His suffering is that He is now King
"When He comes, our glorious King,
All His ransomed home to bring,
Then anew this song we'll sing:
'Hallelujah! what a Savior!'"
Jesus is now sitting on His throne as King of kings (Acts 2:29-33, Revelation 19:16). And someday, our King will return to bring His ransomed home (I Thessalonians 4:16-17). Then we shall be able to sing this song around His throne forever and ever (Revelation 5:8-14).
We often sing this song before partaking of the Lord's supper, and it is a good song to accomplish the purpose of focusing our minds on the death of Christ. But it should not be limited to that. It is also an excellent song of praise to Christ to be sung at other points in a worship service, or at any time for that matter. Because God loved us enough to send His Son to die on the cross that we might be redeemed, we should always want to say, "Hallelujah! What A Savior!"
The Light of the Word Is Jesus
A song which is based upon the idea of Jesus as the light of the world is "The Light of the World Is Jesus." Whittle, in his Memoirs of Philip P. Bliss, written in 1877, stated, "'The Light of the World Is Jesus' was written in the summer of 1875, at his home, No. 664 West Monroe Street, Chicago. It came to him all together, words and music, one morning while passing through the hall to his room, and was at once written out." It first appeared in The International Lessons Monthly of 1875. Its first hymnbook publication was that same year in Gospel Hymns and Sacred Songs No. 1. The song points our minds to Jesus Christ as the light of the world.
Stanza 1 says that Christ's light shines in the darkness of sin.
"The whole world was lost in the darkness of sin;
The Light of the world is Jesus;
Like sunshine at noonday His glory shone in;
The Light of the world is Jesus."'
To be lost here means to be outside of Christ, aliens from God, and without hope (Luke 15:24; Ephesians 2:11-12). The reason why the whole world was lost is that it was in the darkness, which is representative of sin (John 3:19-21, Romans 3:23). Yet, into this darkness, the light of the glory of Christ has shone in like sunshine at noonday (John 1:4-5, 14).
Stanza 2 says that Christ's light provide guidance to us.
"No darkness have we who in Jesus abide,
The Light of the world is Jesus;
We walk in the Light when we follow our Guide,
The Light of the world is Jesus."
Since God is light and in Him is no darkness at all, as long as we abide in Jesus, we have no darkness (I John 1:5-6). Therefore, it should be our aim to walk in the Light (I John 1:7). The means by which Jesus guides us with a lamp to our feet and a light to our pathway is God's word or truth in which we are to walk (Psalms 119:105; III John 3-4).
Stanza 3 says that Christ's light enables us to see.
"Ye dwellers in darkness with sin-blinded eyes,
The Light of the world is Jesus;
Go, wash, at His bidding, and light will arise,
The Light of the world is Jesus."
Those who live in sin are likened to people whose eyes have been darkened by darkness (Ephesians 4:17-19). However, Jesus has the power to make our spiritual eyes see again, if we let Him, just as He made the physical eyes of the blind man see (John 9:1-7). Yet, as the blind man was told to go and wash in the pool of Siloam,so we must come to Christ and meet His conditions to have our sin-blinded eyes opened (II Corinthians 4:3-4, Ephesians 5:8-14).
Stanza 4 says that Christ's light will continue to shine forever in heaven.
"No need of the sunlight in heaven, we're told,
The Light of the world is Jesus;
The Lamb is the Light in the City of Gold,
The Light of the world is Jesus."
As John describes the new heaven and new earth, the New Jerusalem, he says that the city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it (Revelation 21:23). The reason for this is the Lamb, an obvious reference to Jesus Christ (John 1:29, Revelation 5.6-12). Because the Lamb is its light, there will be no night there (Revelation 21:25; 22:1-5).
The chorus then invites all to come to this light:
"Come to the light, 'tis shining for thee;
Sweetly the Light has dawned upon me;
Once I was blind, but now I can see;
The Light of the world is Jesus."
Sometimes this hymn has been used as an invitation song, and it can be a very effective one. It should also encourage Christians to recognize the importance of sharing to a sin-cursed world dwelling in darkness that "The Light of the World Is Jesus."
The Half Was Never Told
One of Bliss's lesser known songs which points out that just as the half of Solomon's wisdom was not told the Queen of Sheba, so the half of God's wisdom to us has not been told us is "The Half Was Never Told." It was copyrighted in 1876, and the copyright was renewed by The John Church Co. in 1904. I have not been able to determine exactly where it first published. Some of Bliss's works were left unpublished at his untimely death but were later found and published afterwards. In his short lifetime, Bliss produced hundreds of gospel songs. This one mentions several blessings of God the half of which cannot be expressed in human language.
Stanza 1 refers to grace.
"Repeat the story o'er and o'er,
Of grace so full and free;
I love to hear it more and more,
Since grace has rescued me."
It is the grace of God that brings salvation (Titus 2:11). Thus, we should love to hear it more and more (Revelation 1:3). It is by grace that we can be rescued or saved (Ephesians 2:8).
Stanza 2 refers to peace.
"Of peace I only knew the name,
Nor found my soul its rest,
Until the sweet-voiced angel came
To soothe my weary breast."
Peace is something that all people seek (Philippians 4:6). Peace brings us the rest that our weary souls desire (Matthew 11:28-30). Some books have omitted this stanza, perhaps to eliminate the possibility of misunderstanding it to mean that angels speak directly to people today. However, the literal meaning of the word "angel" is "messenger" so the stanza could easily be understood figuratively to refer to hearing the messenger who preaches the gospel of peace (Romans 10:15); in fact, the message of the angels about peace on earth is still heard through the scriptures.
Stanza 3 refers to joy.
"My highest place is lying low
At my Redeemer's feet;
No real joy in life I know,
But in His service sweet."
Those who humble themselves before the Savior's feet will be exalted (Luke 14:11). Therefore, only those who humble themselves in Christ can know real joy (Philippians 4:4). This joy is found not in seeking power but in serving others (Matthew 20:25-28).
Stanza 4 refers to love.
"And, O, what rapture it will be
With all the host above,
To sing through all eternity
The wonders of His love."
It will be rapture (an expression of great joy) to be with all the host above who stand before the throne (Revelation 7:9-10). These will be singing a new song for all eternity (Revelation 15:2-4). Part of that new song will be the wonders of the love of Him who redeemed us (Revelation 5:9-10).
The chorus repeats the fact that we can never fully understand the depths of these wonderful blessings.
"The half was never told,
The half was never told,
Of grace/peace/joy/love divine, so wonderful,
The half was never told."
When we think about the grace by which we are saved, the peace and joy that we have in our souls as a result, and of God's love that made it all possible, we would have to agree that "The Half Was Never Told."
What Shall the Harvest Be?
Sometimes Bliss would provide tunes for the texts of other individuals, such as those for a couple of Frances Ridley Havergal's songs, "I Gave My Life For Thee" and "I Bring My Sins to Thee." A song which talks about the results of sowing the seed in different places is "What Shall The Harvest Be?" The text was written by Emily Sullivan Oakley, who was born on Oct. 8, 1829, at Albany, NY. Very little is known about her. It is believed that she produced these words around 1850, and they were first published in the Family Treasury of Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1861. The tune was composed by Bliss, and the song first appeared in his 1870 book The Prize but became well known after being included in his 1874 Gospel Songs published in Cincinnati, Ohio. John Julian noted, "Two hymns, 'I am so glad that our Father in heaven" and 'Sowing the seed by the daylight (dawnlight) fair,' (sometimes given as 'Sowing our seed in the morning fair') are usually attributed to Mr. Bliss. In his Gospel Songs, Cincinnati, 1874, however, he lays claim to the music only. Mr. Sankey attributes this last to 'E. A. Oakey.' " Then in the appendix, Julian said, "'Sowing the seed by the daylight fair' is in the Family Treasury, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1861, pt. 1, p. 84. It is said to be by Miss Emily Sullivan Oakey." Further research has shown that the name is actually Oakley. As a result, some books have also ascribed the text of the other hymn mentioned, "I am so glad that our Father in heaven" or "Jesus Loves Even Me," to Miss Oakley also, although now it is generally attributed to Bliss. Some books say "Mrs." Emily S. Oakley, but that is probably due to either a misprint or smudging. Miss Oakley died at Albany on May 11, 1883. The song emphasizes the fact that we are all sowing seed and should strive to sow the right kind.
Stanza 1 talks about when the seed is sown.
"Sowing the seed by the daylight fair,
Sowing the seed by the noonday glare,
Sowing the seed by the fading light,
Sowing the seed in the solemn night:
O what shall the harvest be?
O what shall the harvest be?"
Every Christian should be like the sower who goes forth to sow (Mark 4:3, 14). Therefore, we should be sowing the seed in the daylight because the night comes when no man can work (John 9:4). And even in the fading light, people can come to work in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-7).
Stanza 2 talks about where the seed is sown.
"Sowing the seed by the wayside high,
Sowing the seed on the rocks to die;
Sowing the seed where the thorns will spoil,
Sowing the seed in the fertile soil:
O what shall the harvest be?
O what shall the harvest be?"
Sometimes the seed falls on the wayside, representing hardened hearts where it is taken away by Satan (Mark 4:4, 15). Sometimes it falls on rocky and thorny soil, representing shallow and crowded hearts where it springs up but is later destroyed by either persecution or materialism (Mark 4:5-7, 16-19). However, some of the seed will likely fall on good ground, representing honest hearts who hear, receive it, and bear fruit (Mark 4:8, 20).
Stanza 3 talks about what kind of seed is sown.
"Sowing the seed of a lingering pain,
Sowing the seed of a maddened brain,
Sowing the seed of a tarnished name,
Sowing the seed of eternal shame:
O what shall the harvest be?
O what shall the harvest be?"
Unfortunately, not all seed sown is the good seed; sometimes tares are sown by those who allow lingering pain or a maddened brain to lead them to do the devil's work (Matthew 13:24-25, 38-39). Thus, they tarnish their name by sowing seeds of bitterness that defile many (Hebrews 12.15). This will result in eternal shame because those who sow to the flesh will of the flesh reap corruption (Galatians 6:7-8).
Stanza 4 talks about how the seed is sown.
"Sowing the seed with an aching heart,
Sowing the seed while the teardrops start,
Sowing in hope till the reapers come,
Gladly to gather the harvest home:
O what shall the harvest be?
O what shall the harvest be?"
Sometimes we sow with aching hearts and teardrops (Psalms 126:5-6). However, the faithful will continue to sow, plant, and water, like the farmer who plows in hope (I Corinthians 3:6-9; 9:10). The reason is that they are looking forward to the time when the reapers will come and gladly gather the harvest home (Matthew 9:37-38; 13:39; John 4:35-38).
The chorus reminds us that whatever we sow, there will be a harvest.
"Sown in the darkness or sown in the light,
Sown in our weakness or sown in our might,
Gathered in time or eternity,
Sure, ah, sure will the harvest be."
By our words, actions, and influences on others, all of us are sowing something. God wants us to sow the good seed of His word. But whatever we are sowing, we need to stop and ask ourselves the question, "What Shall The Harvest Be?"
A song which points out that the Lord knows the way that we take and will help us is "He Knows." The text was written by Mary G. Brainard. Practically nothing is known about the author. The words first appeared in The Congregationalist, 1869. Apparently the first line originally began, "I Know Not What Shall Befall Me." John Julian wrote, "The original hymn we have failed to trace." The text was arranged and the tune was composed both by Bliss. Ira D. Sankey wrote, "Mr. Bliss lost his life in the terrible train wreck at Ashtabula, Ohio [Dec. 30, 1876]. His trunk, however, reached Chicago safely, as it had gone before by another train. In his trunk was discovered this hymn. Mr. Bliss had rearranged the words of the poem to some extent, and had composed the tune. Sentence by sentence, the words are full of pathetic interest in connection with the author's sudden death so soon afterward." It is believed that this version was made sometime early in 1876, and it was first published in Sankey's Gospel Hymns No. 2 the following year. The song emphasizes the need to put our trust in God no matter what the future may bring.
Stanza 1 talks about God's kindness.
"I know not what awaits me;
God kindly veils my eyes,
And o'er each step of the onward way
He makes new scenes to rise.
And every joy He sends me comes
A sweet and glad surprise."
While there have always been those who want to look into the future, God actually is kind to us by not allowing us to know what shall be on the morrow (James 4:14). However, for those who trust Him, He will make new scenes arise as He guides them each step of the onward way (Luke 1:78-79). And every joy that He sends them will come a glad and sweet surprise because every good and perfect gift comes from Him (James 1:17).
Stanza 2 talks about God's promise.
"One step I see before me;
'Tis all I need to see.
The light of heaven more brightly shines
When earth's illusions flee,
And sweetly through the silence came
His loving 'Follow Me.'"
Christians do not need to see the future holds because we are being led by the one who holds the future in our steps (Psalms 119:133). However, He does allow us to see a glimpse of a bright future in heaven when earth's illusions flee (I Peter 1:3-5). Therefore, He simply calls upon us to follow Him (Luke 9:59).
Stanza 3 talks about God's guidance.
"O blissful lack of wisdom;
'Tis blessed not to know.
He holds me with His own right hand,
And will not let me go,
And lulls my troubled soul to rest
In Him Who loves me so."
In truth, there are some things which it is better not to know that they are going to happen because the way of man is not in himself to know how best to respond (Jeremiah 10:23). We must simply put our hand in God's hand to help us (Psalms 119:173). And when we do that, He will lull our troubled soul to rest in Him (Psalms 55:6).
Stanza 4 talks about God's encouragement.
"So on I go not knowing;
I would not if I might.
I'd rather walk in the dark with God
Than go alone in light;
I'd rather walk in faith with Him
Than go alone by sight."
Thus, even though we do not know what the immediate future is, we must, like Paul, press on (Philippians 3.14). To "walk in the dark" here does not mean to walk in sin because God is light and in Him is no darkness at all (I John 1:5-6). Rather it means to walk without knowing what the future holds but by faith in God rather than sight (II Corinthians 5:7).
The chorus encourages us to determine to follow the Lord wherever He leads us.
"Where He may lead, I'll follow;
My trust in Him repose,
And every hour in perfect peace
I'll sing, He knows, He knows."
It is good to make plans and preparations for the future in order that we might strive to accomplish what the Lord wants us to do in this life. However, the fact is that we do not know precisely what will happen to us on our journey in life, and even if we did we could not always do much about it. It should be simply enough to follow the Lord and understand that "He Knows."
At his tragic death Bliss left some poems that were set to music by others. One of these is a song which gives praise to Christ because He came to redeem us is "My Redeemer." The text was written by Bliss. The tune was composed by James McGranahan, who was born near Adamsville, Pennsylvania, on July 4, 1840, of Scotch-Irish descent and was a member of a family who may have had roots in the Christian Church or Disciples of Christ. Receiving very little formal education, he possessed a native musical talent and at the age of nineteen began teaching singing schools. During the summers of 1861 and 1862 he attended the Normal Music School at Geneseo, New York, conducted by William Batchelder Bradbury (1816-1868). One of the teachers there was Bliss who encouraged McGranahan to devote his life to gospel music. The two became close friends. Afterwards McGranahan became associated with J. G. Towner and helped to conduct singing schools throughout Pennsylvania and New York from 1862 to 1864. Later, he studied under George Frederick Root (1820-1895). By 1875, he was a member of the faculty at Root's Normal Musical Institute at Somerset, Pennsylvania, and in 1876 at Towanda, Pennsylvania.
In Dec., 1876, when Bliss, who had been the song director for revival evangelist Daniel Webster Whittle, was killed in a tragic train wreck near Ashtabula Ohio, McGranahan was asked to identify the body and met Whittle who had also come for that purpose. This text was found by them in Bliss's trunk, which had escaped damage. It is thought that Bliss had probably produced it earlier that year, intending to provide music for it later. Following Bliss's death, McGranahan went to Chicago, Illiniois, to consider the offer by Whittle to carry on Bliss's work as his song director. While there, McGranahan provided this tune for Bliss's words sometime in 1877, and it was first sung in a service at Whittle's tabernacle. Shortly after that, it was recorded by George Coles Stebbins (1846-1945). This fact makes it one of the earliest songs to be recorded by Thomas A. Edison. The song was first published in 1877 in Welcome Tidings, A New Collection for the Sunday School, edited by Robert Lowry (1826-1899), William Howard Doane (1832-1915), and Ira David Sankey (1840-1908).
McGranahan later included the song in his own work, The Gospel Male Choir, published in 1878 at Cincinnati, Ohio, by John Church and Co. He did choose to go on and become Whittle's song leader. Together they conducted evangelistic crusades throughout the United States and twice visited England in 1880 and again in 1883. They also produced a number of gospel songs together, with Whittle as author and McGranahan as composer, such as "The Banner of the Cross" and "I Know Whom I Have Believed." As a hymnbook compiler, McGranahan published The Gospel Male Choir, Vol. 2, in 1883; The Choice; Harvest of Song with Charles Clinton Case (1843-1918); Gospel Choir, with Sankey; and Gospel Hymns, Nos. 3, 4, 5, and 6, with Sankey and Stebbins, in which most of his successful songs appeared. As a song director, he was known for his fine tenor voice. His health broke down in 1887. Afterwards he settled to live in semi-retirement and continue his writing at Kinsman, OH, where he died on July 7, 1907. The song mentions several aspects of the redemption that is available in Christ.
From stanza 1 we learn that redemption is possible because of the cross of Christ.
"I will sing of my Redeemer,
And His wondrous love to me;
On the cruel cross He suffered,
From the curse to set me free."
There can be no doubt that our Redeemer loved us (Ephesians 5:2). As an expression of His love and desire to offer redemption, He died on the cross and shed His blood, in order that we might have peace with God (Colossians 1:14, 20). His purpose in this was to set us free from the curse: Galatians 3:10-13
From stanza 2 we learn that redemption is possible because Jesus paid the ransom.
"I will tell the wondrous story,
How my lost estate to save,
In His boundless love and mercy,
He the ransom freely gave."
The reason why Jesus came was to save us (I Timothy 1:15). The motivation for His coming was the love and mercy of God (Titus 3:5). The ransom price that Jesus paid to save us was His precious blood (Matthew 20:28, I Peter 1:18-19).
From stanza 3 we learn that redemption is possible because of Jesus's power.
"I will praise my dear Redeemer,
His triumphant power I'll tell,
How the victory He giveth
Over sin and death and hell."
The triumphant power of Christ to save us from sin is manifested in the gospel (Romans 1:16). Through faith in the gospel, He gives us victory (I John 5:4). This victory is over sin, and death, and hell based upon His own resurrection from the dead (I Corinthians 15:54-57).
From stanza 4 we learn that redemption is possible because Jesus loved us.
"I will sing of my Redeemer,
And His heavenly love to me;
He from death to life hath brought me,
Son of God, with Him to be."
Only the love of God, manifested in Christ, could effect our salvation from sin (Ephesians 2:4-5). Because of this love, He can bring us from death to life (John 5:24). And He gives us the hope of being with Him even when this life is over (Philippians 1:23).
The chorus sums up the thought of the four stanzas:
"Sing, oh, sing of my Redeemer,
With His blood He purchased me;
On the cross He sealed my pardon,
Paid the debt, and made me free."
With a heart made thankful for all that God in Christ has done to save me from my sins, I should always be singing of "My Redeemer."
Philip Bliss provided words and/or music for several other well known hymns, including "Once For All," "Wonderful Words of Life," "Hold the Fort," and Horatio Gates Spafford's "It Is Well with My Soul." It is generally conceded that of all the American gospel musicians of the late eighteenth century, Bliss was certainly one of the most talented. It would have been interesting to see what heights he could have gone on to achieve if his life had not been so tragically snuffed out at such a young age.