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Hymns — P. P. Bliss

by David Cloud, Way of Life Literature

P. P. BlissPhilip P. Bliss (1838-1876) might have become the most prolific hymn writer of his era had he not died young. He grew up in a log cabin in Pennsylvania and was saved at age 12. He married Lucy Young in 1859. They shared a love for music and sang duets together. He loved music from childhood but had no opportunity for formal training until 1860 when Lucy's grandmother donated $30 so he could attend a six-week program at the Normal Academy of Music of New York. From 1865 to 1873, he worked with the Root and Cady Musical Publishers in Chicago, conducting music conventions, singing schools, and concerts.

In 1874, he surrendered his music talents totally to the Lord's service. "Mr. Bliss made a formal surrender of his life to Jesus Christ. He gave up everything, his musical conventions, his writing of secular songs, his business position, his work at the church, so that he would be free to devote full time to the singing of sacred music in evangelism" (Ed Reese, Philip P. Bliss).

Bliss was the song leader for evangelist Daniel Whittle from 1874 to 1876. They had 25 campaigns in eight states in the east, south, and midwest. He published his first book of Gospel Songs and devoted the entire profit of $30,000 to evangelism. After Ira Sankey returned from the Moody crusades in England in 1875, the Bliss/Sankey songbooks were combined into Gospel Hymns and Sacred Songs.

In November 1876, Bliss conducted a service for the 800 inmates of the Michigan State Prison and saw the fruit of genuine repentance in many. There he sang "Hallelujah, What a Saviour" and another of his own, "Eternity."

Philip Bliss's popular hymns include the following:

"Jesus Loves Even Me" (1870)
"Hold the Fort" (1870)
"Whosoever Will" (1870)
"Almost Persuaded" (1871)
"Once for All" (1871)
"Dare to Be a Daniel" (1873)
"Pull for the Shore" (1873)
"Hallelujah, What a Saviour!" (1875)
"The Light of the Word Is Jesus" (1875)
"Let the Lower Lights Be Burning" (1875)
"Wonderful Words of Life" (1874)
"I Will Sing of My Redeemer" (1876) (tune by James McGranahan)
"Hallelujah 'Tis Done" (1876)

Bliss wrote the tunes to Frances Havergal's "I Gave My Life for Thee" and Horatio Spafford's "It Is Well with My Soul" (1876).

Agreeing to begin work with D.L. Moody in late 1876, Bliss and his wife traveled to Rome, Pennsylvania, for Christmas holidays with Bliss's mother and sister, and immediately afterwards booked seats on a train back to Chicago for meetings that were to begin the Sunday following Christmas. As the train neared Ashtabula, Ohio, a bridge collapsed and the cars plunged 75 feet into the icy river below. "Five minutes after the train fell, fire broke out from the kerosene heaters in the train's cars. Fanned by gale-like winds, the wooden coaches were soon fiercely ablaze. Mr. Bliss succeeded in extricating himself and crawling to safety through a window. Finding his wife was pinned under the ironwork of the seats, he returned into the car, and bravely remained at her side, trying to extricate her as the flames took their toll. All that remained was a charred mass. No trace of their bodies was ever discovered" (Reese). It was said that Bliss was a man of "herculean stature," but he couldn't rescue his wife and they perished together. With the remains of other passengers whose bodies could not be recognized, that of Philip and Lucy Bliss were buried in a mass grave that was marked with a large monument.

The Blisses were survived by two sons, George and Philip, who were aged four and one at the time of their parents' death.

Bliss had sent their trunk ahead to Chicago, and it arrived safely. In it was "I Will Sing of My Redeemer," which was later set to music by James McGranaham. Also in the trunk was the last song that Bliss wrote the music for a poem by Mary Brainard entitled "He Knows." It was first sung at Bliss's funeral.

"He Knows"

1 I know not what awaits me,
God kindly veils mine eyes,
And o'er each step of my onward way
He makes new scenes to rise;
And every joy He sends me, comes
A sweet and glad surprise.

Where He may lead me I'll follow,
My trust in Him repose,
And every hour in perfect peace I'll sing,
He knows, He knows;
And every hour in perfect peace I'll sing,
He knows, He knows.

2 One step I see before me,
'Tis all I need to see,
The light of Heav'n more brightly shines,
When earth's illusions flee;
And sweetly through the silence comes
His loving "Follow Me."

3 Oh, 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.

4 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 the light;
I'd rather walk by faith with Him
Than go alone by sight.

From Way of Life Literature, www.wayoflife.org, 2023.

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