How many of us, after listening to a sermon during church service, are inspired to pen our thoughts through a poem or a song? The 19th century hymn, ‘Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy’, was written by gospel songwriter Philip P. Bliss (1838-1876), who was impressed by an illustration the American evangelist Dwight L. Moody used during an evangelistic campaign.1 As Moody brought his sermon to a close, he told a moving story of a captain who attempted to bring his boat to the Cleveland harbour on one very dark and stormy night on Lake Erie.
The waves rolled like mountains, and not a star was to be seen as the boat rocked on the violent waves. “Are you sure this is Cleveland?” asked the captain, on seeing only a single light from the lighthouse.
“Quite sure, sir,” replied the pilot.
“Then where are the lower lights?” the captain continued.
“Gone out, sir!” the other man answered.
The captain asked, “Can you make the harbour?”
“We must, or perish, sir,” the pilot replied.
But despite the pilot’s strong heart and brave hands, in the darkness he missed the channel. With a resounding crash, the boat piled up on the rocks and many lives were lost in a watery grave.
With the congregation totally immersed, Moody concluded with this admonition: “Brethren, the Master will take care of the great lighthouse. Let us keep the lower lights burning.”2
Jesus calls us to be “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14), and to let the world see our light and come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. As “a city set on a hill cannot be hidden,” our Christian faith is to be visible to our family, friends, colleagues, and even our enemies.
Like the lower lights of the lighthouses that guide the ancient mariners to steer their wooden ships safely into the harbour, the Lord commands us to give light, to “[keep] the lights along the shore” (stanza 1) for the “poor fainting, struggling seaman”, to guide him without peril into the safe haven of God.
There are still many who are lost in the darkness of the raging storms in their lives and are “trying… to make the harbour” (stanza 3). Let us trim our “feeble lamps”, and keep our “lower lights” ever burning through our words and deeds, so that all may see and glorify our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).
Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy (Hymns of United Worship, #216)
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.
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 harbour,
in the darkness may be lost.
Words: Philip P. Bliss, 1871 (Matt. 5:16)
Music: Philip P. Bliss, 1871
Dr Yeo Teck Beng –
is Principal of the Methodist School of Music, and a member of Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church.
1 Kenneth W. Osbeck, 101 More Hymn Stories (Grand Rapids, Mich: Kregel Publications, 1985), 175.
2 Ibid., 175.
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