Bliss wrote in his journal: “Now I am full persuaded that God calls me to give my time and energies to writing and singing the Good News. I am constrained by what Christ is and has been to me, to offer all my powers directly to His sweet service. Major Whittle goes with me to preach the Gospel while I try to sing it.” Whittle and Bliss went on to become the second most prominent evangelistic team in America in that era, ranking only under Moody and his song leader Ira Sankey.
This Sunday, December 29, marks the 143rd anniversary of the untimely death of Philip Paul Bliss (1838-1876), a popular nineteenth century hymnwriter. Circumstances surrounding Bliss’s death provide a profound lesson concerning trusting God with our unknown future. May we all be encouraged and enabled to do that with all the unknowns of the New Year to come.
This past autumn I had the privilege of ministering one Sunday at Tri-County Bible Church in Madison, Ohio. That Sunday afternoon Pastor Joe Tyrpak of TCBC treated my wife Leeta and me to a brief, spiritually-beneficial historic tour in nearby Ashtabula, Ohio, where Philip Bliss’s young, promising life and career unexpectedly came to an abrupt end.
Bliss was born on July 9, 1838, in Rome, Pennsylvania. He was born into a very poor Christian family that was characterized by a healthy blend of strictness, singing and smiling. He professed his personal faith in Jesus Christ at age twelve during a series of Baptist revival meetings. Between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one, Bliss sporadically taught school while pursuing a teacher’s certification and further formal education. He received his first voice lessons at Susquehanna Collegiate Institute at nineteen years of age, and immediately showed signs of exceptional musical ability. At age twenty-one Bliss married Lucy Young, and the newlywed couple joined the Rome Presbyterian Church.
Bliss eventually moved to Chicago where he taught and published music under a musical agent. At age thirty Bliss met Dwight Moody, a zealous young evangelist, who immediately invited him to help lead the Sunday evening singing at his church. For the next four years Bliss served as the choir director and evangelistic Sunday School administrator at First Congregational Church in Chicago. During those years he published what proved to be his two most popular hymns during his lifetime, “Hold the Fort and “Jesus Loves Even Me.”