And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness… (Romans 2:19).
I first heard Let the Lower Lights be Burning, written by Philip B. Bliss in 1871, as a child at Highland Park Baptist Church, Chattanooga. The hymn has never left me.
When we were lost in sin Christ, the Light of the world, called us from darkness (“That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” John 1:9). Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life (John 8:12).
As Christ concluded His earthly ministry he gave us who believed in the Light this commandment: And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature (John 16:15). Christ has made us smaller lights, to shine the way to Him. Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning… (Luke 12:35). Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).
Philip Bliss was in attendance in 1871 when D. L. Moody gave the following soliloquy during a morning sermon.
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 light-house.
“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 light-house: let us keep the lower lights burning!
With that Mr. Bliss by evening had penned lyrics to Let the Lower Lights be Burning.
Brightly beams our Father’s mercy,
From His lighthouse evermore,
But to us He gives the keeping
Of the lights along the shore.
Chorus: Let the lower lights be burning!
Send a gleam across the wave!
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman
You may rescue, you may save.
Dark the night of sin has settled,
Loud the angry billows roar;
Eager eyes are watching, longing,
For the lights along the shore.
Trim your feeble lamp, my brother;
Some poor sailor, tempest-tossed,
Trying now to make the harbor,
In the darkness may be lost.
D. L. Moody said of Bliss: “…I loved and admired him. I believe he was raised up of God to write hymns for the Church of Christ in this age, as Charles Wesley was for the church in his day. … In my estimate, he was the most highly honored of God, of any man of his time, as a writer and singer of Gospel Songs, and with all his gifts he was the most humble man I ever knew. I loved him as a brother, and shall cherish his memory….”