One of the leading hymn-writers of the United States was P. P. Bliss. Indeed, Mr. Bliss probably wrote more hymns that are held in high esteem by the church today than any other American, with the single exception of Fanny Crosby.
His life was one of exceptional interest. He was born in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, July 9, 1838. His family was a poor one, living in a log house. His father removed several times to Ohio and back again to Pennsylvania, so that the lad had little schooling.
Mr. Bliss's name was originally "Philipp." Not relishing this eccentric spelling, Mr. Bliss in later years used the superfluous "P" as a middle initial, writing his name "Philip P. Bliss," or, more commonly, "P. P. Bliss."
His father taught him religion by his singing, praying, and Bible-reading, and every day his mother gave him lessons. Early in his boyhood he showed a passion for music, and would sing and play on rude instruments that he himself made. He was ten years old when he heard his first piano as he was passing by a house. The poor, barefoot boy was so fascinated that he dared to enter the house and stand at the parlor door. The young lady who was playing the piano stopped when she saw him. "O lady, play some more," said the boy; but, far from being moved by his evident appreciation of the music, the young woman answered him rudely, "Get out of here with your great feet."
At the age of eleven young Bliss set out from his father's house to work on a farm, all his clothes being tied up in a handkerchief. At the age of thirteen we find him still working on a farm, getting the munificent wages of $9 a month. At the age of fourteen he was assistant cook in a lumber-camp, and the next year he began to cut logs, and then worked in a sawmill. During all this time he went to school when he could.
In 1850 there was a revival in the schoolhouse, and, though he had from an early age loved the Saviour, he then made public profession of his faith, and became a member of the Baptist church. In 1855 he had the rare privilege of a whole winter in school, and made so good use of his opportunity that the next year he himself taught a school. About this time he enjoyed his first singing-school, J. G. Towner being the teacher, and soon afterward he attended his first musical convention, in charge of the famous composer, W. B. Bradbury. Next we find him teaching in the academy of Rome, Pennsylvania.
He married, and his wife was indeed a helpmeet. She was a Presbyterian, and Mr. Bliss also joined that church, becoming the superintendent of the Sunday school. He heard of the Normal Academy of Music at Geneseo, N.Y., and longed to go so much that he broke down crying. He had not a cent in the world, and his wages were only $13 a month. Seeing his grief, his wife's grandmother brought out her stocking with its hoard of silver, a sum of more than $30, and gave it to him for that purpose. He became a music-teacher, and gave himself up to the fascinating art.
In 1864 he wrote and published his first song, "Lora Vale," and for the rest of his remaining twelve years of life he was writing songs and giving concerts, which were very popular. Mrs. Bliss went with him on his concert tours. He wrote many songs for Sunday-school books.
Meeting Mr. Moody, Major Whittle, and other evangelists, he himself became an evangelist, and was remarkably successful, especially with young people. He was on one of these evangelistic tours with his wife when both of them were killed in the great railroad disaster at Ashtabula, 0hio, December 29, 1876. The train was precipitated by the fall of a bridge down a ravine sixty feet deep. The cars caught fire, and 100 of the passengers were killed. The death of Mr. and Mrs. Bliss under circumstances so tragic was a deep sorrow to the Christian world. He and his wife were greatly beloved wherever they were known, and his songs were sung everywhere, and have continued to be sung. Among the most famous of these are "Hold the fort," "Are your windows open toward Jerusalem?" "There's a light in the valley," "Only remembered by what I have done," "What shall the harvest be?" "Let the lower lights be burning," "Whosoever will," "Free from the law, oh, happy condition!" "Only an armor-bearer," "Pull for the shore," "Down life's dark vale we wander," " The light of the world is Jesus," "Almost persuaded," "Hallelujah, 'tis done," "The half was never told," "More holiness give me," "More to follow," "Daniel's Band," and "I will sing of my Redeemer." To this last must be added the hymn we have specially chosen, "I am so glad that our Father in heaven." Of this hymn Major Whittle, in his life of Mr. Bliss, writes as follows:—
"I think it was in June, 1870, that 'Jesus loves [even] me ' was written. Mr. and Mrs. Bliss were at the time members of my family, at 43 South May Street, Chicago. One morning Mrs. Bliss came down to breakfast, and said, as she entered the room: 'Last evening Mr. Bliss had a tune given him that I think is going to live and be one of the most used that he has written. I have been singing it all the morning to myself, and cannot get it out of my mind.' She then sang over to us the notes of 'Jesus loves [even] me.' The idea of Mr. Bliss in writing it was that the peace and comfort of a Christian were not founded upon his loving Christ, but upon Christ's love to him, and that to occupy the mind with Christ's love would produce love and consecration in keeping with Romans 5:5: "...the love of God [to us] is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us." This view of gospel truth was at this time being very preciously brought to the souls of believers in Chicago by the preaching of Moorhouse and Mr. Moody and by the Dublin tracts and English commentaries upon gospel truth, which, through Mr. Moody, began to be circulated among Christians. How much God has used this little song to lead sinners and fearful, timid Christians to 'look away to Jesus' eternity alone can tell."
Mr. Sankey had a beautiful experience with this song. A little girl, a member of his singing-class, lay dying, and as he was talking with her one day she said, "Don't you remember when you were teaching us to sing, 'I am so glad that Jesus loves me,' you told us that if we only gave our hearts to Him He would love us? and I did give my heart to Him." Mr. Sankey added, "What that little dying girl said to me helped to cheer me on more than anything I had heard before, because she was my first convert."
A missionary of the American Sunday School Union once sang that song in a meeting he was conducting in a small town in Missouri, where he had just organized a Sunday school. At the close of the song the missionary asked: "Are you glad? If not, why not?" On this a young man rushed up to the missionary, threw his arms about him, and said: "O, that song! I could not keep away from it, and it has saved me."
The hymn itself is as follows:—
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.
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.
Though I forget Him and wander away,
Kindly He follows wherever I stray;
Back to His dear loving arms would I flee,
When I remember that Jesus loves me.
O, if there's 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!"
From A Treasure of Hymns... by Amos R. Wells. Boston: United Society of Christian Endeavor, ©1914.
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