July 9: Philip P. Bliss

Hymn Writer Par Excellent
by Rev. David T. Myers

The Union fort was surrounded on all sides by the forces of the Southern Confederacy in 1864. Wondering whether he should surrender or not, the  Union military commander looked to the north and saw the signal coming his way.  It read, “Hold the fort. I am coming. Sherman.” He did, and his command was rescued by the Union forces. The Christian hymn writer heard the story and turned it into a hymn for the visible church yet on the earth.  “Hold the fort, for I am coming,” he interpreted Christ saying. And the Christians in His church, replied “By thy grace we will.”

That hymn writer was Philip P.  Bliss, who was born in a log home on this day July 9, 1838 in Rome, Clearfield County, Pennsylvania to Christian parents.  For the first ten years of his life, he moved constantly to Ohio and to different places in northern Pennsylvania.  He received most of his early education from  his mother.  Early on, he developed a passion for music.  For the next eight years, he worked constantly for other people, on farms, as a cook, at lumber yards, in sawmills — anywhere he could get a job. Staying with various families, one such stay resulted in marriage with Lucy Young.

Lucy Young was a member of the Presbyterian Church of Rome, Pennsylvania,  having come to Christ when she was sixteen years of age. Philip Bliss joined the Presbyterian Church at well, becoming superintendent of the Sunday School. Two children would be born of this union with Lucy.

Moving to Chicago in 1864, he began to be involved with music within the context of evangelistic preachers, such as Dwight L Moody, Major Whittle, and others.  He also began to write music, and publish his own gospel song books.

It was for one of these evangelistic campaigns with D. L. Moody that he and his wife left their two small children with his mother in Rome, Pennsylvania to travel by train in 1876. The train in a blinding snow storm traveled on a bridge which was compromised. It caused the train to fall into the gorge.  Philip Bliss was able to extract himself through a window, but went back to help his wife Lucy, when the train was engulfed by fire. They never found any bodies after that storm of fire.

Hymns written by Philip Bliss are some of the most memorable in Christian music.  Some of them are: Almost Persuaded, Hallelujah What a Savior, Hold the Fort, Let the Lower Lights be Burning, The Light of the world is Jesus, Whosoever Will,  Wonderful Words of Life.  I am so Glad that Jesus Loved me,  Dare to be a Daniel, I will Sing of My Redeemer, Man of Sorrows, What a Name, More Holiness Give Me, and Jerusalem the Golden.

Words to Live By:
The next time you sing in church one of Philip Bliss hymns, or around the piano in your home, reflect on the love Philip Bliss had for his Redeemer, the love of lost souls, and the self-sacrificing love he had for his wife, Lucy.  Indeed, “google” Philip P. Bliss and read more of his life. He used his God-given talents and gifts for the Savior in the Presbyterian Church, as well as for the church at large. So should we do the same.

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