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The Lower Lights
Matthew 5:16
LOWER LIGHTS  |  Hymn History  |  Bible Passage
Author: Philip P. Bliss, 1838-1876
Musician: Philip P. Bliss, 1838-1876

Brightly beams our Father's mercy
From His lighthouse evermore,
But to us He gives the keeping
Of the lights along the shore.

Let the lower lights be burning!
Send a gleam across the wave!
Some poor fainting, struggling sea-man
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.


I love the sea! I love boats! Nothing gives me more pleasure than to take my own little boat down to the water and spend a few hours just pottering about.

One of my favourite sailing spots is the beautiful area of Carlingford Lough in County Down, where the air is bracing and the scenery majestic. But the tides there are strong and the currents can be very treacherous. You really do need to know what you are doing and, perhaps more important, where you are going.

I was very fortunate, then, that a good friend of mine, who is also a keen sailor, went with me when I first ventured onto Carlingford. Harry came to show me the way around and to point out 'the marks', as they call them.

To put it in 'land-lubbers' language he had come with me to point out the navigation marks. His knowledge of the area, gained from years of sailing there, was invaluable. The few hours he spent with me that day, sailing from Greencastle, over to Carlingford harbour, down by the Block House and out as far as the lighthouse at Cranfield, were greatly appreciated.

I can now sail that stretch of water with complete confidence, because I know the danger spots and how to stay clear of them.

How important it is to be able to find your way, especially in treacherous circumstances. That's what D.L. Moody must have had in mind when he told the following story:

On a dark and stormy night in the last century, when the waves rolled like mountains and not a single star lit the darkness of the sky, a large passenger ship cautiously edged it way towards the harbour at Cleveland, Ohio. On board, the pilot knew that, on such a night, he could only find the safety of the harbour by keeping the two lower shore lights in line with the main beacon.

'Are you sure this is Cleveland?' asked the captain, who could see only one light, that from the lighthouse.

'Yes, I'm quite sure,' relied the pilot, peering into the inky darkness.

'But, where are the lower lights?' asked the captain.

'They must have gone out, sir,' came the reply.

'Can you still make the harbour then?' enquired the now anxious captain.

'We must, or perish, sir,' said the pilot solemnly, as he swung the wheel again.

With a strong hand and a brave heart the old pilot steered the heaving vessel onward. But alas! In the darkness he missed the vital channel, the boat crashed on the rocks and many lives were lost.

When Mr. Moody first told the story of the shipwreck at Cleveland, he concluded with these words, "'Brethren, the Master will take care of the great lighthouse; let us keep the lower lights burning.'"

That story fired the imagination of one of Dr. Moody's associates, Philip Bliss. He was already a song writer and composer of some repute; and when he took the moral of this story and told it in song, it became popular immediately. Soon, "Let The Lower Lights Be Burning,," was being sung in Moody campaigns everywhere. Later it was to become a firm favourite with that other American evangelist, Billy Sunday.

We all meet with people every day, and for those people we may provide the only opportunity they will ever have to hear the gospel. Unless we tell them, they may never hear!

l'm sure that's what Philip Bliss had in mind when he penned the last verse of his hymn. In exhorting us to show others the way of salvation it speaks of lambs of a different but equally important kind, and reminds me of something from my childhood days.

I grew up on my father's small farm and one of the things I remember clearly is, the 'hurricane' lamp. Those were the days before electricity came to our part of the country, so if you had any work to do outside at night, a lamp was essential. 'Hurricanes,' were the most popular.

These had a wide metal base and a strong carrying handle; they used paraffin oil, and had a wick which was totally enclosed in a storm-proof, glass globe. Hence, the name 'Hurricane'.

From time to time, when the light would grow dim, my father would dismantle the lamps to clean them.

The glove would be washed, then polished with newspaper until it sparkled. The wick would be trimmed, removing all the charred edges, and neatly shaped to give a nice oval flame. Then the lamp would be refilled with fresh oil and lighted. It was almost a pleasure to go out on a dark, winter night with a 'hurricane' which had received this treatment.

I feel that's the type of lamp Philip Bliss was referring to when he wrote:

Trim your feeble lamp, my brother;
Some poor sailor tempest-tossed
Trying now to make the harbour,
In the darkness may be lost.

Jesus expressed the same thought in an almost identical way when He said, 'Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.'

Brightly beams our Father's mercy
From His lighthouse evermore;
But to us He gives the keeping
Of the lights along the shore.

Let the lower lights be burning!
Send a gleam across the wave!
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman
You may rescue, you may save.


16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

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