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Philip P. Bliss (1838—1876) was an American hymnist, composer, gospel singer, evangelist, and teacher. He was a contemporary to D. L. Moody, Ira Sankey, and Fanny Crosby.
Born on July 9, 1838, in a mountainous region of Pennsylvania, Philip Bliss was raised by his parents who instilled in him a love for Scripture and music. From an early age, Philip was interested in music and singing, an interest that increased when he happened to hear a woman playing a piano. At the age of 11, young Philip left home and began working in logging camps and other trades in which he apprenticed. He placed his faith in Jesus Christ at the age of 12.
Later, Philip Bliss worked on obtaining his teaching credentials and began a job as a teacher. Because of his love for music and singing, he transitioned to teaching music and even received voice training through the help of a friend. Soon after this, Bliss started composing music, and his compositions were received with great admiration. Bliss married his wife, Lucy, on June 1, 1859. During an encounter with D. L. Moody, Bliss was encouraged to join Moody’s evangelistic crusades and use his rich baritone voice to sing gospel music full-time. Bliss turned down the offer because he felt that the Lord was calling him to full-time evangelism, but he continued to write hymns.
Philip Bliss is best remembered for his many hymns. Most notable among these are “Wonderful Words of Life,” “Jesus Loves Even Me,” “Dare to Be a Daniel,” “Let the Lower Lights be Burning,” “I Will Sing of My Redeemer,” and “Hallelujah, What a Savior.” He also set the lyrics of “It Is Well with My Soul” to music, which was written by his friend Horatio Spafford. This song was based on Spafford’s struggle after losing all his daughters in a shipwreck.
Bliss displayed a good knowledge of Scripture in his hymns, reflecting his time in God’s Word. Before writing “Jesus Loves Even Me,” Bliss had been contemplating Romans 5:5, which states, “This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (CSB). Another well-known hymn, “Man of Sorrows,” reflects several biblical truths, including the description of Jesus as “a man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3, ESV) and “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, NLT).
Philip Bliss’s life ended tragically. As Bliss and his wife were traveling by train on December 29, 1876, a bridge collapsed over the Ashtabula River in Ohio, causing the passenger cars to plunge sixty feet. In the crash, the wreckage of the train caught fire. Bliss, who had escaped the wreck unharmed, went back for his wife who was trapped in the wreckage. He stayed by her side, trying to free her as the fire spread and eventually consumed them. Amazingly, Philip Bliss’s luggage made it safely to the intended destination where unfinished hymns were found safe and intact.
In his short life, Philip Bliss made an impact for Christ through his hymns and gospel singing. Demonstrating a strong faith in Christ and a desire to make Him known, Bliss’s story serves as an inspiration for those who choose to use their talents and gifts for God’s glory (see 1 Corinthians 10:31). The hymns he penned will continue to encourage Christians to “sing praises to God our King” (Psalm 47:6, CEV).
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