THE STORY BEHIND THIS HYMN
The text for this hymn was written by Philip P. Bliss. He was born Philipp Bliss in
a log cabin in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania July 9, 1838. Although he
grew up in poverty, this did not affect his God given talent for music.
He displayed this talent and desire early in life. He was always large in stature as a boy, and
large as a man. He left home at age 11 to become a lumber jack. Saved at
age 12, he attended music school to become a music teacher. Married at 22,
he soon began conducting music conventions. At the urging of D.L. Moody,
he gave it up to become evangelist/song leader with Daniel W. Whittle from
1874 - 1876 where he brought crowds of people to hear his commanding
yet gentle voice in song. They conducted 25 revivals in ten states together.
On December 29th, 1876, during the post Christmas season, Mr. and
Mrs. Bliss were returning by train from Rome, Pennsylvania, where they had been
visiting his mother. He had a meeting on the following Sunday scheduled at
Moody's Tabernacle in Chicago.
As the train approached Ashtabula, Ohio, a bridge collapsed, plunging
seven rail cars down the 60 foot ravine and burst into flames. This tragedy
resulted in the loss of 100 lives.
However, Bliss managed to survive the wreck by climbing
out a window. Although he had survived, and was safe, he immediately
returned to the burning wreck to rescue his wife Lucy, and both lost their lives
in the flames. Neither body was ever recovered.
Ironically, their travel trunk survived
the wreckage, and this hymn text was found amongst his belongings on a manuscript he had been
working on. It first appeared in print in 1877 in 'Welcome
Tidings: A New Collection of Sacred Songs' -J Church and company compiled by Ira Sankey, Robert Lowry, and Wm. Doane.
The music was composed by James McGranahan shortly after Bliss'
death, and introduced along with McGranahan, who continued the work that Bliss had begun.
It was widely welcomed, and is a very popular hymn even today.