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Edward Hopper (1816-1888)

Edward Hopper (1816-1888)

by Terry Conley


First published in The Sailor’s Magazine (1871) and The Baptist Praise Book (1871).  The Sailor’s Magazine was a periodical magazine which contained information regarding information and updates on commercial ships and their crews, and associated information.  It was available to the general public by subscription or purchase and the proceeds were used as a source of income for endeavors that provided a safe haven for sailors and their families during life’s difficulties and separations.  The magazine also kept everyone up to date on churches that had been established in cities and towns serving the sea-faring community.  At one time Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me was a popular hymn appearing in over 1,000 publications.

The text was written by Edward Hopper, who was born in New York City, on February 17, 1816.  He was the son of a merchant.  Following his education at New York University and Union Theological Seminary, from which he graduated in 1842, he became a Presbyterian minister.  He preached for about 10+ years at churches at Greenville, NY, and at Sag Harbor on Long Island.  In 1870 he became Pastor of a small congregation known as the Church of the Sea and the Land in New York City, where he served his remaining years of life.  This church was specifically located within walking distance of the harbor area and in an area frequented by the sailors.  The Church of the Sea and the Land had been established in 1866 at New York City harbor as a mission for sailors, in whom Hopper had always been deeply interested, probably through due to his contact with them through his father’s business. The congregation consisted mainly of seamen who made their way to and from their ships. In this way, Hopper ministered to sea-faring men from around the world.  He produced this hymn, probably in 1870, for the spiritual needs of his flock.  It first appeared anonymously in the March 1871, edition of The Sailor’s Magazine. Later that year, it was published in The Baptist Praise Book, with the tune (Pilot) composed by John Edgar Gould (1822-1875).

Edward originally wrote six stanzas, but today, only three of them are generally used for the hymn (1, 5, and 6).  I think that the other verses make an important component of his complete thought that even when we have smooth sailing for a time, we still need Christ as our Pilot, to be in control.  The complete song puts spiritual ideas in terms the men he ministered to could understand.  Every seasoned sailor knew what it was to face the peril of a storm and sea, and the hymn helped them to apply that imagery to their lives. The song is based on a couple of incidents recorded in the Gospels (Matt. 8:23-27; 14:22-33). The former passage says: “Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him. And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing!’ But He said to them, ‘Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?’ Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. So the men marveled, saying, ‘Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?’”

To this we can add the assurance of the Lord’s presence with His children now, in His final promise given in Matthew’s Gospel, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). That’s like the pledge made to the nation of Israel, centuries before: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isa. 41:10).  This scripture reference was also used for that wonderful hymn, How Firm a Foundation.

In original verse one (hymn stanza 1), Hopper began by writing of the reality of an unsettled life, of the seas being rough and stormy.  There are hidden and treacherous areas that capture us when we are least expecting it.  At any time, our life may be overturned by something that just seems to appear, but we are reminded that all our direction comes from our Lord and Savior.  From experience, we sailors know that there are treacherous parts of our journey.  We do not always know exactly what kind of waves the seas will bring with them, just as we do not know what the challenges of life will bring us.  However, whether facing storms of life or peaceful days, we can always look to the Lord to provide for what we need each day.

The original verse two follows up that idea with the story of Jesus calming the storm as an example of the promise that Jesus will use His power to help us as well.  I think this should remind us that we can struggle with the problem for as long as we like but when we look for Him in our storm, He is there with us.  This is amply illustrated by the fact that the Bible records that on least two occasions, Jesus was with the apostles during a storm on the Sea of Galilee.  On one of these occasions, He even walked across the water to aid and comfort them.  And He gave them that same opportunity while they kept their eyes on Him and looked to Jesus.  Nothing can hinder Him.  If we actively make Him our life’s Pilot, God has promised us He will guide and protect us.

The original verse three reminds us that we need to have Christ as our pilot even when there are no disturbing storms and life seems calm.  Hopper wrote: “Though the sea be smooth and bright, Sparkling with the stars of night, And my ship’s path be ablaze With the light of halcyon days, Still I know my need of Thee; Jesus, Savior, pilot me.”  Paul wrote about this in Philippians.  He said he knew how to be abased and how to abound.  He knew that in life, whether he was facing the storms of life or peaceful days, he would always look to the Lord to guide him.

The original verse five (hymn stanza two) equates the love of Jesus and His actions to that of a loving mother hushing and comforting her child.  We have all witnessed this love in play when a parent takes a child and holds them and speaks softly and calmly to them in a time of trouble or hurt.  Jesus will do the same for His children if we let Him.  The same divine power which Christ manifested to still the storms on the Sea of Galilee is available to assist us in our problems if we ask.  We can make our journey on the seas of life with trust in God rather than in constant fear.

Verse six (hymn stanza three) talks about our destination, the shore where we will find peaceful rest.  The last promise is a blessed, blessed relief to all Christians: “When at last I near the shore, And the fearful breakers roar ‘Twixt me and the peaceful rest, Then, while leaning on Thy breast, May I hear Thee say to me, Fear not, I will pilot thee.”

If we truly trust in the Lord, He will show us the path of life to a land where there will be the fulness of joy in His presence and pleasures evermore.  Luke recorded that promise Jesus made to the thief hanging next to Him:

“And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43

So what are the duties of the pilot spoken of in the hymn?  Today we have aviation pilots and ship pilots but of course Hopper is writing of and the Bible is speaking of a ship’s pilots.  As an officer in the US Navy, I had primary responsibilities and duties and secondary ones.  My secondary duties included specific locations and responsibilities that came into play during emergency situations or as the ship was entering or leaving port.  They were different from my main duties and responsibilities.  When the ship was entering and leaving port or underway, I was part of the team that was stationed on the bridge of the ship.  The bridge is positioned at the highest point of the ship to provide clear vision.  Teams are trained and assigned “watches” to make sure everything was done correctly to ensure a safe transit.  As a junior officer, some of my duties included making sure all the other required stations were staffed and communications in place.  I also made sure the senior officer (Officer of the Deck) had all the correct, current information that was needed and during normal activity, he instructed me for my next step up in responsibility.  Of course, the Captain of the ship always had the ultimate and overall responsibility and authority, but he trusted the bridge crew.  We were all well trained and “in control.”  But as well trained and experienced as we all were, we were not qualified to provide the level of experience, safety, and security required and provided by the Pilot during those times that we were entering or leaving port.  In maritime law, a Pilot is a person who assumes responsibility for a vessel from a particular geographic point for the purpose of navigating the ship through a river or channel, to a particular point or place.  When this Pilot comes aboard, everyone on board is in “his hands.”  We placed our security and safety in his capabilities.

This is a position you can’t just assume.  There are qualifications for a Ship’s Pilot license. The Pilot must exhibit skill in all areas related to providing a safe passage within his assigned area.  A pilot must have the highest degree of skill as a sailor and may be tested on that knowledge. The individual may be required to submit written references from persons who know of him and his abilities.  In addition, the applicant must obtain a reference from a licensed pilot.  The pilot may also be required to post a bond.  God gave those signs of approval and posted the bond in His Word in Matthew 3:17, “And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

How wonderful to know that we have a Pilot who is sovereign over the tempests and able to guide us safely to our final harbor!  We certainly do not expect Jesus to perform miracles today such as He did on the stormy Sea of Galilee. Those miracles are recorded in scripture as written references and directions and provide all the evidence that we need to believe on Him, His skills and abilities.  This hymn’s simple and direct statement and of the reality of the world today points me to the need to look to Jesus for guidance in my pilgrimage and should motivate me always to say, “Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me.”


A Treasure of Hymns, Amos R. Wells; United Society of Christian Endeavor; 1914

The Story of Hymns and Tunes, Theron Brown and Hezekiah Butterworth; American Tract Society, 1906

A Dictionary of Hymnology, John Julian, D.D.; Dover Publications, Inc.; 1907




G. F. Handel

G. F. Handel

by Terry Conley


(February 1685 – April 1759)

It is true that for many of the wonderful Gospel Hymns and Songs we know and sing, it is the combination of the words and music that thrills and blesses us.  No less so than in the music we know as Handel’s Messiah.  All we need to hear are the first few notes or words and immediately, our spirit is touched.  But in truth, Handel’s Messiah should be better called Handel’s and Jennens’ Messiah.  We shall see why.

Handel was born in Halle, Germany, February 23, 1685, the son of a barber-surgeon.  He showed an early gift for music and learned to play the violin, organ, harpsichord, and oboe at an early age.  He also learned the principles of keyboard performance and composition.  But George Handel’s father did not see that music was a way to support a family and he wanted more for his son.  His plans were for his son to be a lawyer and he discouraged George’s study of music at every turn.  In order to please his father, George studied law until he was 18, even though his father died when Handel was 11.  His musical ability would not be denied.  During the next five years, he was employed as a musician, composer, and conductor at various courts and churches throughout Italy and Germany.  During one period, he also was the organist of the Reformed (Calvinist) Cathedral (Market Church) in Halle, known as The Cradle of the Reformation.

In 1710, at age 25, he was appointed orchestra and choir director to the Elector of Hanover, the future King George I of England.  In 1712 Handel moved to London and became a permanent resident.  The next year, he gained royal favor with his Ode for the Queen’s Birthday and was granted an annual allowance of £200 by Queen Anne.  In February 1727, he became a British subject and was appointed composer of the Chapel Royal.  His life had many interruptions but the year 1741 gave the world what many consider to be his greatest oratorio, Messiah.

Charles Jennens (1700 – 1773), the man behind the words, was an English landowner and patron of the arts.  Jennens was brought up in Leicestershire, in the mid-lands of England.  He was educated at Oxford but did not graduate.  He was known in the community as a devout Christian and identified as an anti-Deist with an interest in primitive or early Christianity.  Jennens had a deep knowledge of the Bible and from about 1735, he contributed many Biblically-based books to Handel’s music.  These include oratorios such as Esther, Saul, Samson, Joseph and His Brothers, and Belshazzar.  He had a background in music and literature and always made notes on his copies of Handel’s works giving suggestions that he thought would make the entire work more Scriptural.

Their most famous collaboration is Jennens’ text for Messiah.  By his account, he wrote the book focusing on Jesus as Messiah with the text taken entirely from the Bible.  The work is structured in three parts originally named The Promise of Redemption, The Price of Redemption, and The Power of Redemption.  Part I begins with the prophecy of the Messiah and his birth, the annunciation to the shepherds, and reflects the Messiah’s deeds on earth.  It is taken from the books of Isaiah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Matthew, and Luke.  Part II covers the Passion and includes mentions of Jesus being despised of men, His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension in Heaven.  Part II also includes a section on the spreading of the Gospel and its rejection.  The Hallelujah Chorus concludes Part II in a scene called God’s Triumph.   Part II includes Psalms, Lamentations, Isaiah, John, Romans, and Hebrews.  The Hallelujah Chorus was drawn from the Book of Revelation.  Part III includes verses from Job 19 concerning the coming Messiah.  The remainder is drawn from Paul’s teaching of the resurrection of the dead and Christ’s glorification in heaven from Romans, I Corinthians, and Revelation.  The work concludes with the Amen Chorus.  Jennens described his work as “a meditation of our Lord as Messiah in Christian thought and belief.”  Handel first estimated that it would take a full year to compose the music, but the 260 pages were completed in an astoundingly short period of about 24 days during August and September 1741.  He made a note in his writings when he finished writing what would become known as the Hallelujah Chorus.  He said, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself”.

Messiah was originally conceived as an Easter oratorio and was first performed at the Music Hall in Dublin on April 13, 1742.  Later, Handel conducted 30 performances of Messiah but not at Christmas since both Handel and Jennens had composed it as music for Easter.  On August 17, 1758, in the year preceding Handel’s death, John Wesley attended a performance of Handel’s Messiah at the Cathedral in Bristol, England, after the yearly Methodist Conference ended.  Wesley wrote about the performance, “I doubt if that congregation was ever so serious at a sermon as they were during this performance.  In many parts, especially several of the choruses, it exceeded my expectation.”

At first all his oratorios were met with outrage from the established Church with many leaders prohibiting their members from participating in any way.  They did not think it appropriate that a Bible story was being told by common actors and singers and the Word of God being used as the text.  The Bishop of London prohibited the oratorios from being performed.  When Royal Family attended, they were met with success but despite the support of the Royal Family, churches remained angry and continued to tear down the advertisements and disrupt the performances.

On April 6, 1759, while directing a performance of Messiah, Handel was taken ill.  He died in his London home on April 14.  One of his last statements recorded his hope to “meet his good God, his sweet Lord and Savior, on the day of his Resurrection.”  His funeral was attended by about 3,000 people with music by the choirs of Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral.  He was buried in Westminster Abbey in the Poet’s Corner.  Handel had previously paid for and given instructions for the statue that stands over his grave.  It shows him working on the score for Messiah with the score open at the passage “I know that my redeemer liveth. (Job 19)”


Hallelujah Chorus

(excerpts and verse source)

And he shall reign forever and ever,

King of kings and Lord of lords.

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah!


The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ;

and He shall reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 11:15, KJV)

Hallelujah: for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.

(Revelation 19:6, KJV)

And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.

(Revelation 19:16 KJV)



Christianity Today website, November 2018

  1. F. Handel, Encyclopedia Britannica,

The Story of the Hymns and Tunes, Theron Brown and Hezekiah Butterworth; New York, 1906

The Glorious History of Handel’s Messiah, Jonathan Kandell, Smithsonian Magazine, December 2009



Elisha Hoffman

Elisha Hoffman

by Terry Conley


Elisha Albright Hoffman was born May 7, 1839, in Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania.  Hoffman’s parents, Francis and Rebecca Hoffman, were of German descent.  His father worked as a minister in the Evangelical Association for more than 60 years.  This group was founded in 1800 by the Rev. Jacob Albright, a German-speaking Christian of Pennsylvania.  Albright was influenced by John Wesley and the Methodist movement.

Hoffman never attended a music school.  He was apparently a natural musician with his musical direction and education obtained from his parents at home during their daily family worship time and hymn singing or from his experiences at his father’s church.  It was during those times that he developed a love for sacred music and a belief that singing was a natural function of the soul, used to express his love for his Savior.

Hoffman attended public school in Philadelphia and graduated from Central High School. He then attended Union Seminary in New Berlin, Pennsylvania.  Upon graduation, he began working with the Evangelical Association’s publishing house in Cleveland, Ohio.   After serving in this position for 11 years, he followed his father’s footsteps and surrendered his life to the preaching of the gospel.  He was ordained by the Presbyterian Churches in 1873, at the age of 34.  From 1880 until his retirement in 1922, Hoffman pastored several churches in Cleveland and Grafton, Ohio; Benton Harbor, Michigan; and Central Illinois.  His longest ministry position was held at the Benton Harbor Presbyterian Church in Michigan where he served as Pastor for 33 years.

It was during these years in ministry that Hoffman composed the bulk of his more than 2,000 hymns.  Many of these hymns composed by Hoffman are still being used today.  Among his most popular and widely recognized songs are: What a Wonderful Saviour!, Are You Washed in the Blood?, No Other Friend Like Jesus, I Must Tell Jesus, and Is Your All on the Altar?  Hoffman also assisted in the compilation and editing process of 50 different song books.

In the majority of his compositions, Hoffman is the author and composer of both the words and music.  In his songs, he sought to create music for congregational worship.  According to Hoffman, a hymn is “a lyric poem, reverently and devotionally conceived, which is designed to be sung and which expresses the worshipper’s attitude toward God or God’s purposes in human life. It should be simple and metrical in form, genuinely emotional, poetic and literary in style, spiritual in quality, and in its ideas so direct and so immediately apparent as to unify a congregation while singing it.”  This is most evident in his recounting of how he was led to write I Must Tell Jesus.  As he often did as a Pastor, he spent hours visiting those who could not come to the services.  One day he was visiting and talking with people from the poorer communities.  He was visiting with a poor mother who was in much mental suffering and distress.  As was his habit, he prayed with her and read the Bible but she remained in much mental distress.  He then suggested the best she could do was take it to Jesus.  He urged her to “take it to Jesus and tell Him of her sorrows.”  As they prayed together, he said he sensed a relief coming over her spirit as she told Jesus of all her trials, heartaches, and sorrows.  He said that he carried that with him the rest of the day and later was able to capture that memory in song.

While his ministry in the churches where he served was fruitful, his songs continue to reach and preach to many thousands who never heard his voice.  Elisha Hoffman was 90 years old when he died November 25, 1929, in Chicago, Illinois.  During his life, he composed over 2,000 hymns, and edited 50 gospel song books.  What a song service we could have with: Are You Washed, What A Wonderful Savior, Glory to His Name, Is Thy Heart Right with God?, Leaning on the Everlasting Arms, When I See the Blood, Is Your All on the Altar?, and, of course,

I Must Tell Jesus

I must tell Jesus all of my trials;

I cannot bear these burdens alone;

In my distress He kindly will help me;

He ever loves and cares for His own.



Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn Writers; Jacob Henry Hall; Fleming H. Revell Company, New York, NY; 1914.

Gospel Songs and Their Writers; Charles H. Gabriel; The Rodeheaver Company, Chicago, IL; 1915.

Hymn Stories For Programs; Ernest K. Emurian; Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI; 1963

Music in Evangelism; Phil Kerr; Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI; 1962


John Wilbur Chapman

John Wilbur Chapman

by Terry Conley


(June 1859 – December 1918)

Chapman was born in Richmond, Indiana.  In his youth he attended a Quaker First Day School on Sunday mornings and the Grace Methodist Church Sunday School in the afternoons.  When he was seventeen his Sunday School teacher talked to him about Christ during an invitation time.  When the speaker asked for those making a confession of belief in Jesus Christ to stand, he said he stood with the rest and joined the local Presbyterian Church in September 1876.  He describes the incident as follows: “Mrs. Binkley put her hand under my elbow and I stood up with the others.  I do not know if this was the day of my conversion, but I do know it was the day of my acknowledgment of Christ.”  He left for Oberlin College (Ohio) later that year and in 1877 went on to Lake Forest University where he earned a B.A (1879).  From there he entered Lane Seminary (Ohio) graduating in 1882.  He was later awarded a D.D. degree by the University of Wooster (Ohio) and an LL.D. by Heidelberg University (Ohio).

It was at Lake Forest while studying for the ministry when his acknowledgment became acceptance.  He attended a Moody Crusade meeting in Chicago and he writes, “When the great evangelist, D. L. Moody, called for an after-meeting, I was one of the first to enter the room, and to my great joy, Mr. Moody came and sat down beside me.  I confessed that I was not quite sure that I was saved.”  Chapman goes on to say that Moody handed him his Bible and asked him to read John 5:24.  Moody asked him if he believed this verse.  Chapman said he thought about it and what it meant to him and then he said it all came to him with startling suddenness.  He said yes, without reservation, he believed what the Bible said.  He stated often that from that day he never questioned his salvation and relationship with God.

Chapman was ordained on April 13, 1881.  In 1882, he married Irene E. Steddon and they moved to their new ministry, a two-church field at Liberty, Indiana, and at College Corner, Ohio, ministering on alternating Sundays.  In May 1885 he became Pastor at the First Reformed Church of Albany, New York where he stayed until 1890.  During that time the membership increased by about 500 and attendance grew from approximately 150 to just more than 1,500 per Sunday.  Then came the call to Bethany Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia in January 1890.  It boasted the largest Sunday School of the world with the church and school plant seating capacity of 4,820. This was the church of John Wanamaker, wealthy Christian layman.  One of the members welcomed him: “You are not a very strong preacher, but a few of us have decided to gather and pray every Sunday morning for you.”  That prayer meeting grew to 1,000 participants before it was over.  He believed that the church needed some reviving, so he conducted his own revival soon after becoming the Pastor.  Approximately 400 new members were brought into the church, most on a profession of faith.  He worked to build the church into a strong spiritual and educational center that attracted hundreds.  As the church grew, requests for his evangelistic preaching grew.  Towards the end of 1892, he felt led to submit his resignation to Bethany because of numerous calls for his services.  This included being a preacher for the Moody World’s Fair evangelistic effort in Chicago.  Moody later hired him as a Vice President at the Chicago Bible Institute (Moody Bible Institute) but he had to turn down the offer of President due to his dedication to what he believed was his calling as a Pastor and Evangelist.

In December 1895, the Bethany Presbyterian Church congregation again extended a call for Chapman to come back home.  He accepted in 1896 and stayed for the next 3 years.  Under his preaching, Bethany became the largest Presbyterian Church in North America.

Chapman’s personal life was not an easy one.  The Chapmans’ first child, Bertha, was born on April 1, 1886.   That joy was cut short by the death of Mrs. Chapman just a month later.  Slightly confused and discouraged, he attended the 1886 summer Northfield, MA Conference where his life’s direction was changed.  He listened to F.B. Meyer speak and heard him say, “If you are not willing to give up everything for Christ, are you willing to be made willing?” Chapman later wrote, “That remark changed my whole ministry; it seemed like a new star in the sky of my life.”

In addition to his duties as a Pastor and Evangelist, Chapman was also involved with the development of Winona Lake Bible Conference in Indiana.  He later became the first director of the conference working as an active leader until his death. He became a leading proponent for the mass evangelism meetings that developed during this time and is credited with presenting the gospel to millions of people who made many thousand professions of salvation. In addition to his preaching and Pastoral duties, Chapman was appointed Corresponding Secretary of the Presbyterian General Assembly’s Committee on Evangelism in late 1895.  In this position, he was responsible for overseeing the activities of 51 evangelists in 470 cities.  In 1909 his attitude toward higher criticism was demonstrated in no uncertain terms as he demanded that all evangelists and missionaries who doubted the inerrancy of Scriptures be recalled at once.

In 1918 he was elected Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church.  This additional responsibility inundated him with such a high level of stress that he developed a serious case of gall stones and needed emergency surgery on December 23, 1918.  He did not recover and died two days later, Christmas Day, aged 59.

The last sermon he preached before a large crowd was in November, 1918, at Carnegie Hall for the Prophetic Bible Conference.  He spoke on “Saved When the Lord Comes.” His last sermon to his church was preached December 15th and was “Christ, Our Only Hope”.  He was a gifted Pastor, Evangelist, and administrator.  No one up to that time had been an evangelist to as many people and nations as had Chapman.  It has been estimated that he preached 50,000+ sermons to more than a million people across the globe, with many thousands of professions of faith had been made.  He had never spared himself and suffered at least thirteen serious breakdowns in his health during the last 15 years of his life.  Illnesses and surgical operations laid him aside for extended periods of his life, but his only complaint was being away from his work.  When asked about this, his comment was, “I cannot ever recall any hesitation as to being a minister,” he said. “It just had to be.”

In fulfilling all these to the best of his ability, he should also be remembered for writing what I believe to be two of the greatest Gospel filled songs that continue to bless us, Our Great Savior and One Day, both published in 1911.

Who does not thrill to sing the following promise:

Our Great Savior:

Hallelujah!  What a Savior!

Hallelujah!  What a friend!

Saving, helping, keeping, loving,

He is with me to the end.


  1. Wilber Chapman, A Biography, Ford C. Ottman, 1920, Doubleday, Page & Company



William H. Doane

William H. Doane

by Terry Conley


(February 1832 – December 1915)

Dr. William H. Doane was born in Preston, CT, the fifth of eight children of Joseph and Frances Doane.   His father was the head of Doane and Treat, cotton manufacturers.  He attended public schools and Woodstock Academy, a private secondary school affiliated with the Congregational Church in Woodstock, CT.  His musical talents were obvious, and he was selected as the school’s choir director.   Very early he was playing the flute, violin, double bass fiddle, and cabinet organ and at sixteen, he composed his first piece of music.  William was saved as a teenager in 1847 and later baptized by Rev. Frederic Denison, uniting with the Central Baptist Church in Norwich, CT.  On November 2, 1857, Doane married Mary Frances Treat, the daughter of his father’s business partner in the cotton manufacturing business.

He worked in his father’s business three years and in 1850 he took a position with the firm of J. A. Fay & Co., manufacturers of woodworking machinery, in Norwich, CT.  In 1860 he became the Managing Partner with headquarters in Cincinnati.  A short time later he was made President.  It was one of the most extensive businesses in its line with connections in many of the principal mercantile centers of the world. During his leadership, the company filed many patents for wood making machinery.  There were more than seventy patents registered in his name, giving him credit for the inventions.  Under his leadership the company won numerous accolades around the world, including at the Paris Exposition of 1889, where it was awarded the ‘Grand Prix’ and Doane was honored as a ‘Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.’

Doane emerged as a prominent figure in Cincinnati’s business and cultural life and his business skills extended beyond manufacturing.  He served as President of the Central Trust and Safe Deposit Company and as a Director of the Barney and Smith Car Company of Dayton, Ohio.  He was recognized for his achievements and was elected to ‘Fellow’ status in several professional organizations, including the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the American Society of Mining Engineers, the American Geographical Society, and the American Society for the Advancement of Science.

Doane and his wife settled in Mt. Auburn, a Cincinnati, Ohio, suburb.  They joined the Mt. Auburn Baptist Church and became active members.  He served long tenures as the Superintendent of the Sunday School and choir director.  He was recognized as a denominational leader being appointed to lead the Ohio Baptist Convention Ministers Aid Society.  The church is located a short distance from the Doane family’s residence, Sunny Side.  Both the church and their residence are still in existence.  Sunny Side contained many reminders of Doane’s love of music.  The music room transom contains engraved opening strains of Home, Sweet Home.  Various musical items including paintings, drawings, and frescoes are located at points on the ceiling and along the walls.  He has also collected many antique instruments and music from around the world.  His prize piece was a grand pipe organ with four measures of the Hallelujah Chorus frescoed into the ceiling above.

Doane devoted himself to musical composition and many of his tunes are as familiar as the words to the poems.  In fact, if we hear just the first few bars, we will know the song they were written for.  He composed many thousand gospel hymns and songs, Sunday School and church songs, and many other songs, ballads, anthems, and cantatas.  He was a longtime collaborator of Fanny Crosby, having written music for an estimated 1,500 of Crosby’s poems but he also composed music for Lydia Baxter (Aletheia, December 2017) and Catherine Hankey (Aletheia, January 2018).

Among the well-known hymns for which the music was composed by Dr. Doane are:

Draw Me Nearer (Fanny Crosby)

I Am Thine, O Lord (Fanny Crosby)

More Love to Thee (Elizabeth Prentiss)

Near the Cross (Fanny Crosby)

Pass Me Not (Fanny Crosby)

Rescue the Perishing (Fanny Crosby)

Take the Name of Jesus with You (Lydia Baxter)

Tell Me the Old, Old Story (A. Catherine Hankey)

To God Be the Glory (Fanny Crosby)

To the Work! (Fanny Crosby)

Will Jesus Find Us Watching? (Fanny Crosby)

He became was a close friend of composer Rev. Robert Lowry, D.D. (Aletheia, June 2018) and together they published more than 40 hymn and song books.  They also compiled and edited The Gospel Hymn and Tune Book for the American Baptist Publication Society and Doane was one of the musical editors of  The Baptist Hymnal.

Doane was a very liberal man in the true sense of the word.  He and his wife generously supported Baptist Churches and institutions.  He was an important contributor to the Granville Academy, a school for boys preparing to enter Denison University.  Because of his ongoing support, which included funding to build conservatory buildings for music, art, and a gymnasium, the academy was renamed the Doane Academy in 1895.  At that time, Denison was a school with strong Baptist heritage.  On the Denison campus his name is on the Doane Administration building (1895), Doane Gymnasium (1905), William Howard Doane Library (1937) which was a gift of Doane’s daughters in their father’s memory, plus a pipe organ donated by Doane and located in the Library.  Today, the Doane Memorial Music Building continues to house the Music Department faculty, various music classes, and practice rooms for students.  In 1875, Denison University bestowed upon him the title of Doctor of Music.  His philanthropy also included Moody Bible Institute, several Baptist churches, the YMCA, the Fanny Doane Home for Missionary Children in Granville and many other religious and civic organizations.  His support for the Moody Bible Institute is memorialized in the Doane Memorial Music Building.

Dr. Doane is a vivid example that our Christian Life does not necessarily lead us to an “either-or” situation.  He demonstrated a remarkable range of talents and achievement throughout his lifetime. His musical gifts included performance abilities with several instruments, hymn and cantata composition, and choral direction. He showed astute business and financial skills which propelled him to the presidency of an important manufacturing company by the age of thirty-four.  His devotion to his Christian faith, local Baptist church, and its broader denominational interests was widely recognized.  It would be a difficult task to find an evangelized place that does not continue to be affected by the results of Dr. Doane’s love.

Doane died in South Orange, NJ, December 23, 1915 and is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, Ohio.


Deeper Love

Deeper love, yes, deeper love,

This our constant plea;

Deeper love, yes, deeper love,

Till we’re lost in thee.

(Doane: Unpublished song)



Baptist Hymn Writers and Their Hymns, Henry S. Burrage, 1888

Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn Writers, J. H. Hall, Fleming H. Revell Company, 1914

Men and Women of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporaries; L. R. Hamersly and Co., New York City, 1910



W.O. Cushing

W.O. Cushing

by Terry Conley


(December 1823 – October 1902)

William Orcutt Cushing was born in Hingham, Massachusetts, a few miles south of Boston, December 31, 1823.  His parents were Unitarians but as he began to read the Bible and think for himself, he sensed his need of a Savior.  He left that group and joined a local Christian Church and later joined with the Wesleyan Methodist Church.  Throughout his adult life the assurance of God’s protection and care was something Cushing knew personally, wrote about, and preached about.

In his late teens as he read and studied his Bible, he began to believe that he had a call from God to the ministry and began studying for that.  After completing his education, he accepted the call to his first pastorate at Searsburg, N.Y which is located about 15 miles northwest of Ithaca.  While there he met, fell in love with, and married his wife, Miss Rena Proper.  They were married on February 4, 1854, and began planning for their future in God’s work.  By all accounts she proved to be a great help to him in his ministry as they served together in several churches located in the northwest area of New York state.  They were in the prime of their life and career, doing what they believed God had given them to do but it was during these years of faithful work that his wife’s health began to fail.  They returned to Searsburg, N.Y. where he again served as pastor for several years while taking care of his wife through her illness.  After a long period of illness, she died in July 1870.

But that was not the end of his challenges.  Soon after his wife’s death, a creeping paralysis began in his throat and vocal cords that left him unable to speak.  Not yet fifty years old when his disability began, and despite all that had transpired, Cushing did not give up on doing something for God.  His prayer became, “Lord, still give me something to do for Thee!”  He still believed in his heart that God had called him to some specific task and that in His own time, God would open that door for ministry.  Happily, for us, God did answer that prayer.  He did not remove the paralysis, but He opened the door to a whole new ministry that extended his influence for Christ in a way he could not have imagined.  With the answer God provided, he would reach not just hundreds or thousands, but millions of people into time far beyond his life-span.  He found that God had given him the ability to write songs and hymns.

Rev. Cushing eventually wrote more than 300 gospel songs many of which are still in use today.  Most, if not all, of his ideas came to him as he studied his Bible.  His first published song seems to be “Jewels” aka “When He Cometh.”  This song was written in 1856 and he noted that it was based upon Scripture he was reading in Malachi and Zechariah at the time.  He wrote the song for the Children’s Sunday School at the Searsburg Church.  His journal notes that “Ring the Bells of Heaven,” was written in 1866.  He noted that the song came to him one Sunday afternoon while listening to local church bells ringing out after a baptismal service.

“Hiding in Thee” was written in 1876 at the request of Ira Sankey who asked that Cushing write something to help in his preaching of the gospel.  Mr. Cushing wrote: “It must be said of this hymn that it was the outgrowth of many tears, many heart-conflicts, and soul-yearnings, of which the world can know nothing.  The history of many battles is behind it.”

Pastor Cushing always turned to the Psalms for comfort throughout his life and ministry and especially so during his wife’s illness and death.  He was encouraged by others as they preached sermons on familiar words and popular ideas such as “When God is There.”  But his experiences led him to consider those times when God seemed silent.  A few years after his wife’s death he was praying for direction, to know he was following Christ in all his life’s dealings.  He may have been wondering when he would hear a sermon on “How to find God in life’s valleys.”  As he considered these things, Cushing was inspired to write a gospel song that could have been his autobiography.  He thought of King David as he wrote in Psalm Twenty-Three, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for Thou art with me.” His notes indicate that it was that verse, rather than the ones referring to the mountaintop meetings with God or the soaring up on the wings of eagles, that sustained him during his months of loneliness and adjustment.  He titled his song “Follow On“(1878).  The song is also known as “Down in the Valley” and Cushing later said that “it was written with prayer and the hope that some heart might by it be led to give up all for Christ.”

It may be true that we sometimes hear more sermons or lessons about all the positives that God wants us as His children to have and experience.  And there are times that God’s presence seems to be everywhere all around us actively blessing and directing other’s steps and lives.  From his experience, Cushing knew that God would lift him up above the shadows and trials of life.  He knew that as Christians, we are bound for a higher ground, but what about the times when He seems to be silent?  Once, emerging out of his own personal “valley of sorrow” undiscouraged and determined to serve God and make his “life count for Jesus,” the preacher began to write about the thoughts he believed God was giving him.  The resulting song, “Under His Wings (1896)” was based on the words he had read in Psalm 17:8, “Keep me as the apple of Your eye; hide me under the shadow of Your wings,” and Psalm 91:4 “He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust.”  His notes show that he was reflecting upon his experiences and of God’s strength and blessings that brought him through each trial.

At last, unable to support himself, Cushing spent the last several years of his life in the home of a friend, Rev. and Mrs. E. E. Curtis, Lisbon Center, N.Y.  But from the day he wrote “When He Cometh” as a young man of thirty-three until he wrote “Under His Wings” as a mature Christian of seventy-three, Rev. W. O. Cushing tried to do the “something” God had given him to do:  Songs of the promise of heaven;  Songs for a daily Christian life of strength, hope, love, faith, and perseverance.


Under His Wings

Under His wings I am safely abiding,

Though the night deepens

and tempests are wild,

Still I can trust Him;

I know He will keep me,

He has redeemed me, and I am His child.




A Treasure of Hymns; Brief Biographies of 120 Leading Hymn-writers and Their best Hymns; Wells, Amos R.; Boston; W. A. Wilde company, 1945.


American Hymns Old and New; Hughes, Charles William; New York, Columbia University Press, 1980.


Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn writers; Hall, Jacob Henry; New York, AMS, 1914.


High Lights on Hymnists and Their Hymns; Goodenough, Caroline; New York, AMS Press, 1974; reprint of 1931 version.


My Life and Sacred Songs; Sankey, Ira D.; London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1906.




Robert Lowry

Robert Lowry

by Terry Conley


(March 1826 – November 1899)

Robert Lowry was born in Philadelphia, PA. March 12, 1826.  He was a Baptist minister, composer of gospel hymns, and a Professor of Literature.  He was married and had three sons.  Lowry died at home in Plainfield, New Jersey on November 23, 1899 and is buried at Hillside Cemetery.

Robert was saved at the age of seventeen.  Although his parents were members of the Presbyterian Church, his study of the Scriptures led him to baptism and membership with the Baptists.  He was baptized by Rev. George B. Ide, D. D., and joined the First Baptist Church in Philadelphia, soon becoming active as a Sunday School teacher and choir member.  As he grew in his faith, his desire to consecrate his life in service to Christ became stronger.  He was encouraged by his Pastor and soon surrendered to the ministry.  He entered the University of Lewisburg (now Bucknell University) to prepare.  Lowry graduated in 1854 with the highest honors of his class.  That same year he was ordained and became pastor of the First Baptist Church, West Chester, PA.  In 1858, he accepted the call to be the Pastor of the Bloomingdale Baptist Church in New York serving there until 1861.  In that year, he was called as pastor of the Hanson Place Baptist Church in Brooklyn, NY.  In 1869, he became Professor of Literature at his alma mater and was called to be the pastor of Lewisburg Baptist Church.  He later became Chancellor of the University.  He remained in Lewisburg until 1875 and then relocated to Plainfield, N. J. to help organize a new church, Park Avenue Baptist Church.  He served as President of the New Jersey Baptist Sunday School Union from 1880 until 1886.

Dr. Lowry was a man of many gifts and talents.  He was an excellent preacher, very knowledgeable in the Bible, and always a brilliant and interesting speaker.  Many reports state that he had few peers in his ability to paint pictures for the imagination.  He could challenge an audience with his vivid descriptions, inspiring others with the same thoughts that inspired him.  As a Pastor, Dr. Lowry developed the skill of recognizing and helping to develop talent of those in his congregations.  At the Hanson Place Baptist Church, he encouraged and wrote songs with Annie Hawks. He also established a similar partnership with Fanny J. Crosby at Sixth Avenue Bible Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York.

He was later asked to become Music Editor at the Biglow and Main Publishing Company, one of the earliest sacred music publishing companies in America.  He hesitated at first due to his fear that the work would hinder his work as a Pastor, but he accepted and in this position he was responsible for more than 500 compositions.  These included words and music for many songs including “Nothing but the Blood,” “Shall We Gather at the River?,” and “Christ Arose” (Low in the Grave He Lay).  He supplied the music for others such as “Follow On” (Down in the Valley) by William O. Cushing, “We’re Marching to Zion” for the words by Isaac Watts, “I Need Thee Every Hour” by Annie Hawks, and “All the Way My Savior Leads Me” with Fanny Crosby.

“Shall We Gather at the River?” is perhaps the most popular of all his songs.  But Lowry said of that song: “It is brass band music, has a march movement, and for that reason has become popular, though for myself I do not think much of it.”  But it was his pastoral duties and actions that led him to write and compose that wonderful song full of hope and promise.  It was an extremely hot and humid day in July, 1864, and a deadly cholera epidemic was claiming many lives in Brooklyn.  As Pastor of Hanson Place Baptist Church, he was called upon to visit many bereaved families as death entered their homes.  He knew the Lord gave him the strength and the words to say.  Each time, the Pastor would assure the sick and sorrowing that through faith in Christ they can look forward to a great reunion day at the river of life described in the book of Revelation.  He encouraged them to think of meeting the departed once again by the river.  He recalled that one day he was resting at home when he began thinking of those that were dying and the separation that was created.  As he rested, his thoughts were led to an eternal future and all that be involved.  This led him on to consider the second coming of Christ, of God on His throne, the gathering of the saints, and the river of life.  He said that he wondered why the hymn writers had written so much about “the river of death,” and so little about “the pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God, and of the Lamb.”  He said that as he thought, the ideas began to construct themselves.  First the question, “Shall we gather?” Then the thought immediately followed as an answer of Christian faith, “Yes, we’ll gather.”  On this question and answer the hymn developed itself, seemingly the music and the words were formed together.  When it was completed, he put it aside.  Later that same year he was asked for some contributions for a songbook; he gave the editor some manuscripts and only as an afterthought, he added his new song, “Shall We Gather at the River?”  The next spring the Brooklyn Sunday School Union asked permission to use it for their May Anniversary.  It was estimated that forty thousand teachers and children sang it during the meeting and in their churches that year.  It was instantly popular being sung in conventions, churches, and Sunday Schools.  In just a short time the song became known wherever the Gospel was preached.

His melodies are known world-wide and many of his hymns have been translated into foreign languages.  But despite his success as a hymn writer, Dr. Lowry said, “Music, with me has been a side issue.  I would rather preach a gospel sermon to an appreciative audience than write a hymn.  I have always looked upon myself as a preacher and felt a sort of depreciation when I began to be known more as a composer.” Yet despite his preference, his hymns continue to be as popular as ever and widely used, being translated into many languages.  In them he preaches to and comforts millions of souls.  We sing his words as we express deep feelings of praise and gratitude to God for His goodness.  What he had thought in his Pastor’s heart and put onto paper, has become a part of the emotions of the whole Christian world. We are all his debtors.


Shall We Gather at the River?

Yes, we’ll gather at the river,

The beautiful, the beautiful river;

Gather with the saints at the river

That flows by the throne of God.



Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn Writers, J. H. Hall. New York: Fleming H. Revell, ©1914.

A Treasure of Hymns, Amos R. Wells

The Story of the Tunes, Hezekiah Butterworth. New York: American Tract Society, 1890.

Baptist Hymn Writers and Their Hymns, Henry S. Burrage. Portland, Maine: Brown, Thurston & Co., 1888, pp. 428–434.



Joseph Lincoln Hall

Joseph Lincoln Hall

by Terry Conley


(1866 – 1930)

Joseph Lincoln Hall, was born in Philadelphia on November 4, 1866.  He grew up with seven brothers and sisters in a home full of music.  His parents, Joseph M. and Barbara Hall, were well known and accomplished musicians.  He inherited his musical talent and fondness of music from them.  He attended the Philadelphia Public Schools and it was during this time that his interest in music became apparent.  When he was nineteen years old, he was appointed choir master of a choir of more than one hundred members, leading them for the next ten years.  In June 1896, he married Eva Wethington at the Methodist Midtown Parish in Philadelphia.  Hall also wrote and published under various pseudonyms which included Maurice A. Clifton, Alfred Judson, Clyde Willard, and Arthur Wilton.

Hall’s musical education was exceptional for the time and among his peers.  He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Music degree with High Honors in 1901.  This program was rigorous and among the first of a four-year degree in music offered by any of the major U.S. universities.  The work included thorough training in which he studied music theory and history.  This included the study of harmony, orchestration, counterpoint, and fugue.  As part of the graduation requirements, he composed a Mass in D minor, orchestrated for full orchestra.  The fact that Hall finished this degree at the age of 35, at a time when his publishing business was booming, is evidence of his determination to broaden his horizons.  He later received the honorary degree of Doctor of Music from Harriman University.  He was truly an educated musician and used that education to introduce the nation to gospel music.

Joseph grew up during the era of the great, modern revivals and revivalists.    It was during this time when many of the great gospel hymns, songs, and song leaders became dominant.  Homer Rodeheaver, who for 20 years led singing for the Billy Sunday revivals, had a formula.  He stated that to be successful a gospel song had to have: “a simple, easy, lilting melody which they (meaning the attendees) could learn the first time they heard it, and which they could whistle and sing wherever they might be.”  The next time you catch yourself whistling or humming one of those great old songs, remember to thank him for his part.

Hall is best remembered today for his gospel song composing and publishing through the Hall-Mack Company of Philadelphia.   He joined with Irvin H. Mack in founding that company in 1895.  Through this association, he became one of the leaders of a group of gospel song composers and writers in the Philadelphia area producing everything from an oratorio in the classic style to a simple gospel song.  He also became involved with the growing Camp Meeting and Bible Conference movement  that became popular during that time.  He was personal friends with such gospel music greats as C. Austin Miles, Eliza Hewitt, and William J. Kirkpatrick.  He was known for his classical church music as well writing dozens of cantatas and several volumes of anthems as he introduced the practice of arranging classical works by composers such as Beethoven, Verdi, Wagner, Dvorak, and Schubert to support the new gospel music.  As head of Hall-Mack Publishers, he was responsible for producing more than 400 hymns, anthems, and cantatas during his career along with editing and publishing 35 gospel hymn books.  Today, there are at least three of his compositions still in use, each with a wonderful message.  They are Does Jesus Care? by Frank Graeff, Glorius Freedom by Haldor Lilleanus, and I Belong to the King by Ida Reed.

Of all that he accomplished during his long career, he always said that the music he created in 1901 for Frank E. Graeff’s Sunday School song Does Jesus Care?, was his most inspired.  And I would have to agree.  If you don’t know this wonderful song, here is the refrain:


Oh, yes, He cares, I know He cares,

His heart is touched with my grief;

When the days are weary,

the long nights dreary,

I know my Savior cares.



Charles Gabriel, Gospel Songs and Their Writers

Jacob Henry (JH) Hall, Biography of Gospel Song & Hymn Writers

Patricia Woodard, The Hymn, Joseph Lincoln Hall: Gospel Song Composer, Editor, Publisher



Philip P Bliss

Philip P Bliss

by Terry Conley


(1838 – 1876)

Philip P Bliss, a Pennsylvania farm boy, wrote some of the earliest and some of the greatest gospel songs that gained popularity in both America and Britain.  Bliss had minimal schooling and little formal music training, yet in the short span of 1864 to 1876, he wrote the words and music for many songs that still stir our heart.  Those include: Almost Persuaded, Free From the Law,  Hold the Fort, Hallelujah! What a Savior, It Is Well with My Soul, Jesus Loves Even Me, Let the Lower Lights Be Burning, Look and Live, The Light of the World is Jesus, Man of Sorrows What a Name, Once for All, Whosoever Will.  An interesting anecdote about his song, Wonderful Words of Life: “I carried that song through two seasons of evangelistic work, never thinking it possessed much merit, or that it had the element of special usefulness, particularly for solo purposes. It occurred to me to try it one day during the campaign in New Haven, CT, and, with the help of Mrs. Stebbins, we sang it as a duet. To our surprise the song was received with the greatest enthusiasm and from that time on to the close of the meetings was the favorite of all the hymns used.” [Bliss]

Bliss was born in a log cabin in Clearfield County, located in Northeast Pennsylvania, July 9, 1838.  His parents were “hard-scrabble” farmers and practicing Methodists who loved to sing.  That is where he first remembered singing and making music.  Their daily activity included family worship which included Bible reading, prayer, and praise.  As was fairly common for the time, Bliss left home early in his life to find work.  Through his teens into his early 20’s, he worked at various lumber camps and sawmills while attending school as he could.  Apparently, his early training at home was profitable for it was at the age of 12 that he made a profession of faith in Christ.  He was baptized in a creek near his home at Elk Run and joined Cherry Flats Baptist Church of Tioga County, Pennsylvania.  This church still meets today.

Despite little schooling, he was enlisted to teach school in Hartsville, New York, at age 18.  This was an early tribute to his character and seriousness of purpose.  The following winter of 1857 Bliss attended his first music convention in Rome, Pennsylvania, which furthered his deep love for music and strengthened his natural talent.  There, he met J.G. Towner, who was the father of hymn writer D. B. Towner, the composer.

The winter of 1858 found 20-year old Bliss teaching school in Almond, New York. There he fell in love with Lucy J. Young, and they were married June 1, 1859.

Bliss had a dream to attend the Normal Academy of Music in New York, but he lacked the means.  He later told the story of how he received the needed funds. His Grandma Allen told him she had been dropping coins into an old sock through the years.  Upon counting the coins, she found more than the required $30.  She gave this to Bliss and he completed the six-week course.  There he met the music leaders of the area, was able to have his questions answered, and to see and hear many new songs and music unveiled.  After Bliss completed the course, his father-in-law furthered his dream and bought him a $20 melodeon, a small, reed pump organ.  With the melodeon and his horse, his new career was started.  Income from teaching music allowed him freedom to attend other traveling music schools in 1861 and in 1863.

In 1869 a meeting with Dwight L. Moody changed his life forever.  This came as the result of Moody hearing Bliss sing in the congregation during the meetings Moody was holding at the Wood’s Museum Theatre at Clark and Randolph Streets in Chicago. Moody invited Bliss to sing at the theater meetings and he never ceased urging Bliss to full-time service of the Lord.  From Scotland, Moody sent letters: “You have not faith. If you haven’t faith of your own on this matter, start out on my faith. Launch out into the deep.”  Lucy Bliss replied: “I am willing that Mr. Bliss should do anything that we can be sure is the Lord’s will, and I can trust the Lord to provide for us, but I don’t want him to take such a step simply on Mr. Moody’s will.”

Bliss did accompany Moody’s friend, Major Daniel W. Whittle to a Sunday School Convention at Rockford, Illinois, in 1870.  It was there that he composed Hold the Fort, For I Am Coming. The song was based upon Whittle’s sermon illustration of an event during the Civil War Atlanta Campaign.  Moody’s campaign was successful as both Whittle and Bliss eventually became engaged with Moody and his campaigns.  The Blisses worked together providing music for the meetings with Whittle through the latter half of 1874 and 1875.  They spent their last year, 1876, with Moody and Whittle in meetings scattered around the Upper Mid-West and the Northeast.  They had also started discussing a Great Britain campaign with Moody and Sankey.

Philip and Lucy returned to Rome, PA, to be with their family for Christmas.    They had agreed to be in Chicago for the 1876 New Year’s Eve service at Moody’s Tabernacle and they were going to leave their children with the family.  Philip made a note that they had spent “the happiest Christmas he had ever known” with his mother, sister, and in-laws.  They checked their luggage through to Chicago and boarded the train at Waverly, New York.

The trip started in a heavy snow storm and one of the engines broke down shortly after the start.  They spent the night in a hotel before continuing their journey in the snowstorm.  The progress was slow but uneventful as both Blisses kept busy with their plans.  Survivors reported that as the train crossed a trestle not far from the station in Ashtabula, Ohio, they heard a terrible cracking sound.  The trestle had broken and the train plunged into the water below.  The wooden cars began burning from the kerosene heating stoves being used.  The lead engine made it across with the second engine, two express cars, and part of the baggage car resting with their weight on the bridge.  There were 159 passengers on the train; 92 were killed or died later of injuries and 67 survived.  It was the worst railroad tragedy to that point in American history.  Bliss was one of those thrown free but he was seen crawling back through a broken window to find his wife.  Nothing of Philip or Lucy Bliss was ever found.   The Blisses were survived by their two sons, George, age four, and Philip Paul, age one.  A monument to Bliss was later erected in Rome, Pennsylvania.

Even after his death, his ministry continued as his friends and associates completed some of his unfinished works.  One such friend was James McGranahan, a fellow composer and hymn writer.  He wrote music to words Bliss had written which were later found in one of the trunks sent on ahead.  The completed song was one of the first songs recorded by Edison on his new invention:


My Redeemer

Sing, oh, sing of my Redeemer,

With His blood He purchased me,

On the cross He sealed my pardon,

Paid the debt, and made me free.


Amos R. Wells, A Treasury of Hymns

Henry S. Burrage, Baptist Hymn Writers and Their Hymns

  1. H. Hall, Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn Writers


A Comment About “I Can Only Imagine”

A Comment About “I Can Only Imagine”

by Rick Shrader

If you know me you know I’m not a fan of Christian Rock or Contemporary Christian Music.  I see the advertisements for the music on the News or online.  The Rock band MercyMe was featured on Fox News one morning with vocalist Bart Millard.  That caused me to read a little and watch the trailer for the movie, read the lyrics and listen to the song.  I won’t go to the movie and I have no need to buy the album.  I don’t have a criticism of Millard’s motive for writing the song.  His father died in 1991 when he was 18 and he was searching for answers.  This is the way contemporary believers find relief.  Of course, Millard has won Dove awards and enjoys much popularity for his song and band.  I only have a basic criticism of the song.

The song “I Can Only Imagine” is asking the question what it will be like when we stand before God.  The lyrics of the second and fourth stanzas read, “Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel, will I dance for you Jesus, or in awe of you be still, will I stand in your presence, or to my knees will I fall?”  I want to offer two thoughts.  First, our authority for what heaven will be like or any other Christian belief must come from what is Written, not from our own imagination.  What comes from our own mind is simple humanism.  One can imagine or dream or think about these things all day but you still won’t know anything for sure.  Secondly, I searched the Scriptures for anyone who stood before God the Father or Jesus Christ in glory where any bodily action is described.  I find only one action:  falling on one’s face in reverence and godly fear.  Isaiah cried, “Woe is me! For I am undone” (Isa. 6:5); Ezekiel  said, “And when I saw it [the throne of God] I fell upon my face” (Ezek. 1:28); Peter, James, and John saw the Lord transfigured and it is recorded, “When the disciples heard it, they fell on their face” (Matt. 17:6); when Saul of Tarsus (the apostle Paul) saw Jesus on the road to Damascus it says, “And he fell to the earth” and only later “Saul arose from the earth” (Acts 9:4, 8); and when John saw Jesus in His resurrected glory on the Isle of Patmos he says, “And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead” (Rev. 1:17).  Now I appreciate Bart Millard’s attempt to think about when he gets to heaven and sees Jesus, but if revelation, not imagination, is any authority, our feet will not want to proudly stand or dance.  They will fall at His lovely feet and praise Him for His grace that we are there at all!