Two Heroes of Christianity
by Glen on 2001-02-24 00:07:07
Philip Paul Bliss was born to singing parents in a log cabin in the northern Pennsylvania woods. He left home to work at age 11 and made a public confession of Christ at age 12. He spent his teen years in
lumber camps and sawmills. But he loved to sing, and he did his best to get an education in music. His voice was remarkably full, resonant and elastic, with a range from low D-flat to high A.
With an old horse named Fanny and a twenty-dollar melodeon, Philip started traveling around as a professional music teacher. In 1858 he married Lucy Young, a musician and poet who encouraged him to
develop his gifts. As a result he wrote and sold his first composition in 1864. It was well received, and he moved to Chicago the next year as an associate of music publishers Root & Cady. Presently he found
himself in demand, conducting musical institutes, giving concerts, and composing Sunday school melodies. Moody championed his work, and Bliss wrote many of the gospel songs we love today: Let the
Lower Lights Be Burning; Man of Sorrows-What a Name!; Jesus Loves Even Me; The Light of the World Is Jesus!; Almost Persuaded; Wonderful Words of Life. He also wrote the music to such hymns as
It Is Well with My Soul.
During the Christmas holidays of 1876 the Bliss family visited his mother in Pennsylvania. On December 29, 1876 they boarded the Pacific Express in Buffalo to return to Chicago. About eight o’clock that
evening in a blinding snowstorm as the train crossed a ravine, the wooden trestle collapsed. The cars, packed with holiday passengers, plunged 75 feet into the icy river and caught fire. Over a hundred people
perished in the wreck, among them-Philip Bliss and his family. He was 38.
By coincidence, Philip’s trunk had been placed on another train and it arrived safely in Chicago. Inside, his friends found a last hymn:
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.
Among those mourning the deaths of Philip Bliss and the other victims of the Pacific Express was the President-elect of the United States, Rutherford B. Hayes, who would soon be officially proclaimed
winner of the 1876 election by only one electoral vote. The nation was reeling at the time from Reconstruction, economic depression, and the political scandals of Ulysses S. Grant. Hayes brought to the
presidency a keen mind, a love for literature, and courage (in the Civil War, he was wounded four times and had four horses shot from under him). He also had a secret weapon-his wife Lucy, whom he had
married on December 30, 1852. Lucy brought to Washington a college degree (she was the first President’s wife to have one), a gift for hospitality, and an open commitment to Jesus Christ.
But she didn’t bring any alcohol.
Official Washington was shocked by her banning of alcoholic beverages from the Executive Mansion, and the First Lady was dubbed “Lemonade Lucy.” She was unapologetic. “It is true I violate a
precedent;’ she said, “but I shall not violate the Constitution, which is all that, through my husband, I have taken an oath to obey.” She later told a friend, “I had three sons coming to manhood and did not feel I
could be the first to put the wine cup to their lips:”
Among those displeased was Hayes’s secretary of state who grumbled after one state dinner, “It was a brilliant affair. The water flowed like champagne:”
President and Mrs. Hayes began each day with morning prayers, making no secret of their lifelong custom of family devotions. They ended most days with music and singing. They were devout Methodists.
During their years in Washington, they attended the Foundry Methodist Episcopal Church; and when the Woman’s Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church was organized, Lucy
became its first president. Sunday evenings at the White House were times of worship. Hymnbooks were distributed, and Lucy sang vigorously the hymns of Philip Bliss and others.