Memoirs of P.P. Bliss: Chapter 5

During the winter of 1873-4, Mr. Bliss received many letters from Mr. Moody, then in Scotland, urging him to give up his business, drop everything and sing the gospel. Similar letters came to the writer, urging that we should go out together and hold meetings. Mr. and Mrs. Bliss were ready for this, if they could see it as the Lord's will. Mrs. Bliss' characteristic remark was: "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." There was much prayer and much hesitation on Mr. Bliss' part in approaching a decision on the matter. He doubted his ability to be useful in the work; doubted whether the drawing he felt toward it was of the Lord or his own inclinations. Mr. Moody continued to write. One of his sentences I remember was: "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." A solemn providence of God that occurred at this time, and very deeply impressed both Mr. Bliss and myself, is linked in the chain that drew us into the work. In November, 1874, my Christian brother and dear personal friend and nearest neighbor, Mr. H. G. Spafford, received a telegram from England announcing the drowning of his four dear children in the loss of the "Ville de Havre." His wife, who accompanied the children, had been rescued and set the despatch. These friends were dear to Mr. Bliss and myself, and their affliction was a deep personal sorrow.

Editor's note: this tragedy was the inspiration for Spafford to write the lyric to the hymn, "It Is Well With My Soul," later set to music by P.P. Bliss. This site provides a bit more background on Spafford and on the song.
Mr. Spafford left at once for Europe, to bring home his wife, and while there had a conference with Mr. Moody relating to Mr. Bliss going with me into Gospel work. Upon his return, he urged the matter upon us, and his words and representations were used of God in bringing us both to regard it as probably that we should respond to the call. Shortly after this return of Mr. Spafford, and while we were waiting for some opening to indicate the Lord's will, an interview on the cars with Rev. C.M. Saunders, of Waukegan, Illinois, led to our arranging to go there for three or four evenings, as an experiment. If the Lord blessed us and souls were converted, we would take it as an indication of His will, that He called us into the work. Through Mr. Saunders, I am furnished with copies of the following letters concerning these meetings: The Tuesday evening meeting was not an encouraging one, as to attendance, and had no marked result, except in the very powerful impression upon the minds of Bliss, dear brother Cole and myself, that the Lord was with us. The next day it rained and we looked for a still smaller audience, but it was twice as large. Before the meeting closed, there were blessed indications of the work of the Holy Spirit upon the people. The place became very solemn, and as dear Bliss sang "Almost Persuaded," every word seemed filled with power. In different parts of the house, sinners arose as he sang, presenting themselves for prayer, and souls that night rejoiced in Christ. Our hearts were very full, and a great responsibility was upon us. The next afternoon, we all three met in the study of the Congregational Church, where our meetings were held, and spent some hours in prayer. Bliss made a formal surrender of everything to the Lord; gave up his musical conventions; gave up his writing of secular music; gave up everything, and in a simple childlike, trusting prayer, placed himself, with any talent, any power God had given him, at the disposal of the Lord, for any use He could make of him in the spreading of His Gospel. Dear Cole united with us in this consecration. It was a wonderful afternoon. As I think back upon the scene in that little study, and recall Bliss' prayer, and the emotions that filled us all in the sense of God's presence, the room seems lit up in my memory with a halo of glory.

This meeting of consecration was followed by a wonderful meeting in the evening. Some twenty or more accepted Christ, and a spirit of deep conviction was upon many souls. We returned to Chicago in the morning, praising God - Bliss to find substitutes for his conventions, and I to resign my business position. From that Wednesday, March 25, 1874, up to December 15, 1876, when I parted from him no more to meet on earth, I never heard Mr. Bliss express a regret that he made this surrender, that he gave himself to God for His work. His income from his business at this time was good and growing. His reputation as a composer was recognized, and he looked forward with his wife to soon being in a condition where he could settle down and be at home, giving up his convention work. His decision involved the giving up of income, the simple trusting God for all means of support, the relinquishing of all plans for ever settling down in a home, a lowering of his reputation in the eyes of many well-meaning musical friends, who recognized his ability to become a leader in the art, and the taking up of a laborious, self-denying calling - a calling in which it is not possible for one to abide unless laborious and self-denying. None of these things that he gave up did Bliss ever speak of. He was as silent about them as the disciples in the Gospels, when, with their eyes on the Lord, they followed Him over Palestine, are silent about the boats, nets and fishes they left by the sea of Galilee. I think Bliss truly counted these things nothing compared with the joy of being a servant of Jesus Christ, and the gladness of being used to impart life by the Gospel to dead souls. On our way to Waukegan, that morning, he selected a verse which, said he, "let us keep as our watchword in the work." The verse is Hebrews XII, 2: "Looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith; who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." Many and many a time has his cheery utterance of the words "Looking unto Jesus" chased away despondency, and given grace and courage for the trials of the way. There is a strange silence on the earth to me, as the though comes that I am never to hear that voice here again. May my memory of it ever be connected with these words, so dear to him, and may the though that he is up there forever with the Lord be to us all, by the power of the Holy Spirit, a greater inspiration than was the voice so loved, so missed.

It is not necessary that I should enter into any detailed account of Mr. Bliss' work which an evangelist. The memorials printed in this book are sufficient evidence of the acceptance of his labors to the church of Christ, and of his endorsement by the ministers of the Gospel of all evangelical denominations as one approved of God. In the chapters devoted to his songs will be found such incidents as I can recall connected with his singing the Gospel. The towns and cities he visited in the work were as follows: In 1874 - Waukegan and Turner Junction, Illinois; Geneva, Wisconsin; Elgin, Illinois; Whitewater, Wisconsin, Detroit, Michigan, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1875 - Chicago; Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky; Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee; St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota; Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 1876 - Racine and Madison, Wisconsin; St. Louis, Missouri; Mobile, Montgomery and Selma, Alabama; Augusta, Georgia; Kalamazoo and Jackson, Michigan; Peoria, Illinois - twenty-five in all. From all of these places there will be some to meet him in glory and to recognize him as the one through whose personal influence they were led to accept salvation.

As memory runs back over the audiences assembled in these various places to hear him sing, and who were often moved by his melodies as the breath of wind moves the bending grain, now weeping, now exulting, now thrilled by the Christ exalted in his song, I offer the fervent prayer that all who ever heard him sing on earth may sing with him in Heaven; and that any before whom these lines may come, whose memory, with mine, runs back to meetings where they were "Almost Persuaded," and almost rose as accepting Jesus, as he sang, but are still unsaved, may now at once decide to give themselves up to Christ. May all the singers whom he loved and so often prayed for be ready, as he was, for the summons home, and may they join that choir of blood-washed ones on high, where he and his dear wife are now singing, "Saved by the Blood of the Crucified One." May all the dear ministers in these places, who loved him and prayed with him, and for him, be anointed with power from on high, to win souls, laboring as those who know not, as he knew not, how short the time may be.

During the last year of his life, Mr. Bliss had an increased desire to work for the children and young people. He conducted a daily meeting for them, and with most blessed results. Hundreds of them, I believe, have been led to Christ, intelligently and savingly, in his meetings. In Peoria, he expressed to me very decidedly his determination to work more earnestly in that direction. His tenderness of nature and sympathy fitted him specially for reaching the hearts of the young. They were drawn to him because they knew he loved them.

A little incident that occurred in Peoria will illustrate his sympathy for children. It was just before Christmas, and Mr. and Mrs. Bliss were busy each day in procuring presents to take home to little Paul and George, and to Grandma, and all at home. One day Bliss was on the street and noticed, as he was passing, a little girl, poorly clad, standing in front of a toy-store window, gazing intently and longingly at the dolls displayed in large numbers and in a pretty arrangement from large to small in the window. He stopped at once and kindly and earnestly said, "Now just pick out the one that you want, and you shall have it. I will go in and buy it for you." He would have been delighted to do so, he said - had already done it in his own mind - but the child looked around at him with a painful expression of distrust and unbelief, and, gathering her shawl over her head, hurried away, not heeding his repeated assurances that she could have a doll if she wanted it. "That is just the way sinners treat Christ," said he, as he told me about it. "I was real grieved that the little one wouldn't let me do for her what I wanted to, and that she distrusted me, when I just wished with all my heart to make her happy. I think I understand a little better how the Lord feels at our unbelief of His precious promises."

I wish all the dear young people and children who have ever attended Mr. Bliss' meetings to know how sincere and tender an interest he had in their welfare. He very much prized the testimonies of the children given to him on cards, or in little notes, and many of them are filed away among his papers. He had a faculty for interesting the children in the Scriptures, and secured their participation in the meetings by giving out texts and asking each to bring a verse upon the text and recite it. "Love," "Peace," "Grace," "Faith," "Believe," "Heaven," and other texts were used by him. Of course, the singing was made a specialty of in his meetings. He sang a great deal with the children, and some for them. He always secured their attention to the sentiment of the hymns and the truth taught in them, before singing, and would have them pray with him for God to bless the singing. The singing was thus taken up out of the place of mere entertainment too often assigned it in meetings, and was made a spiritual power in worship and in preaching the Gospel. When he prayed, he usually had the children follow him audibly. After singing and prayer, he would have the texts repeated, and request that any who wished to confess Christ as their Savior should do so, after they had repeated their verse. Many a grown person has been led in this manner, in his meetings (for as many adults attended them as children), to overcome their timidity, and to know the joy that comes from obeying the word in Romans X, 10, by "confessing with the mouth the Lord Jesus." After recitation of texts and singing, he would give them a ten minute lesson from the word. The following are some of his outlines for these lessons:

These are given as illustrating his preparation for his meetings, and his method of using the Scriptures. I have wished to give them, and to briefly sketch his manner of conducting meetings, for the benefit others may derive as to methods of intersting the children in religious services, and also to have Mr. Bliss remembered as something more than a singer, in the evangelical work in which he was engaged. He was much used of God in preaching the word in the manner above set forth, as well as in singing. The services he has conducted alone in various parts of the country, which he used to call "praise meetings," have been much blessed, and were abundant evidence of his ability for the general work of an evangelist. It would be an injustice to his memory to think of him as a singer only, and to consider that the part he has borne in the work which has been owned of God was simply that of singing. We pray to the Lord of the harvest to raise up the singer to take his place in singing the Gospel; but shall we ever have again singer, poet, composer, preacher, all combined in one of like character with Philip Bliss? If necessary for the church, yes. By the grace of God he was what he was. But it seems to many of us that "take him for all in all, we ne'er shall look upon his like again." He has been given to us to show how beautiful the gifts of God may become when shining out through a Christian life, from a soul consecrated by the blood of Christ, and sanctified by the indwelling of the Spirit of God.

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