In the summer of 1869, Mr. Moody was holding Gospel services in Wood's Museum, near the corner of Randolph and Clark streets, in Chicago. For half an hour preceding his theater meeting, he was in the habit of speaking in the open air from the steps of the Court House near by. Mr Bliss has told me of this meeting as follows: "I had been nearly four years in the West, at that time, and had passed a good many Sundays in Chicago, returning from the country where I was occupied holding Musical Conventions; but I had never met Moody. One Sunday evening, my wife and I went out for a walk, before going to church, and passing up Clark street, we came upon the open air meeting. I was at once attracted by the earnestness of the speaker, who, I was told, was Moody, and, waiting until he closed with an earnest appeal for all to follow him to the theater, we decided we would go, and fell in with the crowd, and spent the evening in his meeting there. That night Mr. Moody was without his usual leader for the singing, and the music was rather weak. From the audience, I helped what I could on the hymns, and attracted Moody's attention. At the close of the meeting, he was at the door shaking hands with all who passed out, and as I came to him he had my name and history in about two minutes, and a promise that when I was in Chicago, Sunday evenings, I would come and help in the singing at the theater meetings. This was the commencement of our acquaintance. I sang at the theater meetings often after that, and, making longer stops in Chicago in connection with writing music, I was often at the noon meeting, and was frequently made use of by Moody in his various gatherings."
How little did either of the two men who met that night at the theater door realize what God was preparing them for, and the relation they would in future years sustain to one another in the work of winning souls.
The following year, in May, 1870, I first met Mr. Bliss. I had heard his name mentioned by Mr. Moody, several times, as having sung at some of his meetings, and of his having asked Root & Cady "Where in the world they had kept such a man for four years, that he hadn't become known in Chicago." Mr. C.M. Wyman (since deceased) was at that time in Chicago, working with Mr. Bliss in making songs. He, with Bliss, was an earnest Christian, and both came to Moody's meetings when they could. I think the first impression Mr. Moody received of the power of solo singing in Gospel work he obtained from these two men; in all events, such impressions as he may have had were crystalized by his use of them. He had a sense of personal loss in his tone, as he would say, "to think that such a singer as Bliss should have been around here for the last four years and we not known him."
At the time mentioned, I received an invitation from my friend, Mr. Talcott, of Rockford, to come out and address the Winnebago Sunday School Convention, and, if possible, to bring a singer with me. I consulted Mr. Moody about a singer, and was referred to Wyman. I called upon Wyman, and found that a previous engagement would prevent his going. While talking with him, Bliss came in, and, after an introduction, he was solicited by us both to go. He cheerfully and pleasantly consented, and met me at the depot the same afternoon. I was much impressed at this convention with Bliss' power as a singer, and was won toward him from the first as a lovable man.
A few days after our return, Mr. T.M. Avery was asking me if I knew who could be obtained to take charge of the singing of the First Congregational Church, then about to move into their new building on the corner of Washington and Ann streets. I told him of my experience with Mr. Bliss, and the opinion Mr. Moody had of him, and that I should like to have him meet him. An appointment was made for a day following, and Mr. Bliss was brought into communication with the people of that church, with the result narrated by Dr. Goodwin. My residence, at that time, was only one block from the church, and as Mr. Bliss wished to be near his new field of labor, he and his wife became inmates of my family, where they remained until they commented housekeeping in November of the same year. It was at this house, No. 43 South May street, that he wrote, "Hold The Fort,"I Am So Glad That Jesus Loves Me" and other of his popular pieces.
The memory of those days is very pleasant, very sacred to us. A dear old father - since passed into glory - my dear friend and Mr. and Mrs. Bliss' dear friend, Charles Severance, a noble, manly young man, loved by us all, who died the following spring, were then with us. What precious seasons of family worship; what animated discussions of Bible truth with my father; what interest in talking over songs and sermons, Sunday Schools and plans of work! How kind and tender dear Bliss was to my invalid father! How he would cheer him in his joyous, hearty way, and in the singing of his favorite songs! How welcome he always was when he came home from his conventions, how sorry we always were to have him go. In all the time he was with us, he was always the same kind-hearted, cheerful, loving and lovable man. Of his Christian work at this time, the following, contributed by Dr. Goodwin, will furnish the most complete record.
In July, 1870, Mr. Bliss became leader of the choir of my First Congregational Church of Chicago, and a few months later, the Superintendent of the Sabbath school. He continued to hold both of these positions for something more than three years, resigning his superintendency only when he had fairly entered upon his work as a singing evangelist. As may be supposed, I saw him very often during all this period, and came to know him well; and the memory of the friendship that grew up between us, and interlocked our hearts more and more as the fellowship of worship and work went on, is and will ever be a perpetual joy. His was a nature to invite confidence and to keep it. Thoroughly frank and unsuspecting, with not a thought of policy or craft, intensely sympathetic and outspoken, with a heart overflowing with kindness of spirit, a conscience quick to hear and imperative to heed every call of duty, a devotion to the service of the Master that never seemed to falter or grow cold, he drew me to him from the first as a brother and yoke-fellow to be exceeding beloved and rejoiced in: and the better I knew him, the more I admired the unaffected simplicity and beauty of his character - the more I felt impressed with the depth and earnestness of his piety - the more I leaned upon and valued his cooperation.
Few pastors, I am persuaded, are privileged to have in their choristers such gifted, sympathizing, efficient helpers. Too often, it is to be feared, the pulpit and the choir gallery are out of harmony as to the ends proposed, or the methods by which the ends agreed on shall be sought; and the cases are not few, nor hard to find, where in the handling of choir-leaders and those who abet them, the Lord's house is turned into a concert hall, the service of song made largely a device for filling and renting pews, and the minister compelled to sandwich his part in between performances that suggest anything but the worship of God or the salvation of men. Sometimes, indeed, he has to come to his duties in the pulpit after the world and the flesh and the devil have, through the finingers and lips of an unconverted organist and choir-leader, set things moving to their liking, and then turn the service over to them after the sermon, to be finished up as they elect. Doubtless the devil likes that way of conducting Sabbath services. If he can only get people's heads full of waltzes and operas and sonatas and what-not else, before the preaching comes, and then have a chance to follow it up with a march or an aria of his own selection, the preacher's thirty minutes of Gospel will not damage his interests. Little wonder that preaching in such circumstances saves few souls. It is like expecting harvest with the enemy invited to go before the toiler, sowing tares, and to follow him gathering up and snatching away the seed.
To those who knew anything of P.P. Bliss, it will not be needful to say that he had no sympathy with any such idea of the music of the sanctuary. He shared to the fullest extent my feeling, that the disposition to make the song and service of God's house showy and entertaining was an abomination in God's sight. He held, as I did, that all music in connection with worship, whether by instrument or voice, should be consecrated and worshipful. In his conception, he who led at the organ should be one to come to the keys fresh from his closet, one who should pray, as his hands swept over the manuals, that the power of God might, through him, constrain the people's hearts to worship in spirit and in truth. So he believed that all who led in the service of song should sing with grace in their hearts; that the music should be strictly spiritual music - not selections made on grounds of taste, high musical character, but selections aimed at honoring God, exalting Jesus Christ, magnifying His Gospel - music, in a word, that God's Spirit could wholly own and use to comfort, strengthen, and inspire God's people, and lead unsaved souls to Christ. Accordingly, the highest devotional character marked all his selections, all his rehearsals, all his leadership in the Lord's house. It was his invariable custom to open his rehearsals by prayer. He often invited me to lead in that service, and to address the choir on the subject of the singing adapted to worship; and few weeks passed without his impressing the spiritual idea as the all-controlling one, and one never to be forgotten by those who were to lead the praises of the congregation.
As Mr. Bliss stood in the choir gallery, partly facing the singers, during his leadership, there was exactly in front of him, in the eastern window of the transept a large crimson cross. Many times during rehearsals he would point thither, saying, "I am glad we have the cross always before us. Let us forget everything else when we sing. Let us seek to have the people lose sight of us, of our efforts, our skill, and think only of Him who died thereon, and of the peace, comfort. strength, joy He gives them that trust him." It is not strange that, with such a chorister in charge, all solicitude about anthems and voluntaries vanished from the preacher's mind. Whatever the selection, I knew it would be full of worship alike in the sentiment and the rendering, would prepare the way for the Word of God; and when the sermon was ended, no matter what the final thought, whether admonition, encouragement or appeal, I always felt sure that the choirister's heart was one with mine, perfect confidence that the impression sought to be produced would be deepened.
This was preeminently true of Mr. Bliss' management of the singing in all gatherings for prayer. He was a royal helper here. He loved such fellowship, could not bear to have things drag and grow listless and stupid, as they sometimes do. His sunny, buoyant nature could not tolerate such an atmosphere, his warm, fresh feelings brought him at once to the rescue. He would break out at such times with one of his ringing songs that would go through all our hearts like the blast of a bugle, and set everything astir. He was especially fond of songs that magnified the name and grace of Christ, and urged to larger trust and consecration and engagedness in His service. "Free from the Law," "More Holiness give Me," "I Gave My Life for Thee, "The Half Was Never Told," "Hold Fast Till I Come," were among his favorites, and they would sometimes scatter the gloom and despondency or coldness of a meeting, as a sudden burst of sunshine through a thick sky puts to rout clouds and fog. Indeed, a stupid, lifeless meeting with P.P. Bliss in it would have been a marvel. All through his songs and his words of witness breathed the spirit of absorbing devotion. With him, the coming of the Lord was a Scripture truth, so real and vivid that his life felt the inspiration of it in everything he said or did. He felt profoundly that the Bridegroom might come at any moment, and it was hence his intense desire to have his work done, his lamp trimmed, and to be ready to enter into the marriage. During the last two years while engaged as an evangelist, he was rarely present in the prayer-meetings; but whenever he was there, almost invariably before he spoke or sang, he gave expression to the feeling that possibly he might be witnessing for the last time. The very last evening when he met with us, he came forward near the close of the meeting, uttering this thought, sang as a word of counsel and encouragement to all young converts, a number of whom had been testifying during the evening, the song whose chorus is:
Hold fast till I come,
Hold fast till I come,
A bright crown awaits thee;
Hold fast till I come.
In his Sunday School relations, he was especially happy and beloved. It is safe to say that no school ever had a superintendent who held larger place in the children's hears than he; and it is easy to see why. He was an enthusiastic lover of children. It never cost him any effort to meet children on their level, for he lived there. He knew a child's nature by instinct, or rather he possessed such a nature, and could no more help gathering about him the little four and five year olds of the infant class, and talking to them in a way that every one of them understood wherever he was, than a florist could help gathering roses and joponicas and fuchsias about him, and talking to them day by day. And the same of older children. The consequence was, that whenever he appeared before the school, every face brightened instantly. Every eye was intent, every ear eager. He never had to ring for order while he was talking; never had any rough, turbulent boys whom he could not interest and control. The look of his eye, the sound of his voice was all-potent. The members of his school, young and old, felt him to be a personal friend, and so he was. He knew very many of them by name. He entered keenly into all their childish experiences; was always ready to listen to the unbosomings which they were eager to pour into his ears; to answer their questions and give the counsel they sought. It was marvelous to see how completely and without effort he possessed their confidence, and how supremely he swayed them by his opinion. Whatever he said was law and gospel in the fullest sense; and wherever he went, as it was his delight to go, among the children's homes, especially those of the humbler sort, in times of sickness, his sunny presence and cheery words and stirring songs were better than all medicines. Patience, courage, hopefulness always followed his visits; and parents were as glad to see him as the children, and often as much helped by his coming.
Mr. Bliss' ability to teach children to sing was amazing, and it was compensation for a long pilgrimage to see him handle a school when training it musically. From the moment he named a piece, he seemed to inspire all with his enthusiasm. Not an eye would wander, not a face be dull. He would say a few pithy words, explaining the sentiment of the song, a few more, possibly, about the music and how to render it; sing a strain or two alone, and then, after two or three repetitions, the school would march through and ring it out as if they had been familiar with it for months. It was as if he had the gift of infusing music into everybody. No matter how little musical culture or skill teachers and scholars had, no matter how out of key or out of time, they were naturally inclined to sing. Somehow when Mr. Bliss led, the difficulties and irregularities and discords seemed to disappear, and there was one grand thrill of feeling, one royal burst of harmony.
The best thing about this singing was that, like that of the choir gallery, it was never for show. Mr. Bliss would have abominated any attempt at musical display, or anything simply entertaining as truly on the part of children as adults. With him the Sunday school and all the departments and appliances of it meant salvation. He believed with his whole heart in the early conversion of children. He was wont to say that he could never remember the time when he did not trust in Christ as his Savior and desire to serve Him. He felt profoundly that when Jesus said, "Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven," He meant to have parents and all understand that He was the children's Savior, and that in their tenderest years the little ones might know renewing grace and become the children of the Kingdom. He greatly coveted such early trust in Christ, and with increasing devotion brought to bear all the agencies at his command to secure it. Next to the word of God, he felt the instrumentality of song to be most potent and used it mightily. Praying before he sang, praying while he sang, and exhorting all others to sing prayerfully and in the spirit, he led the school. Many times he would stop in the middle of a song to lift up the cross, emphasize the love of Jesus, and urge every heart to immediate decision on the Lord's side. He often did it with tears - tears in his eyes and tears in his voice; and time and again, as, with that wonderful pathos and sweetness of which he was such a master, he poured forth hs soul in the affectionate entreaties of "Calling Now" or "Almost Persuaded," all hearts would melt as if touched of God, and the solemn hush that followed seemed like a moment of universal prayer and consecration.
God richly blessed this dear brother's songs and labors in the school. During his connection with it there was rarely a communion season without some of its members coming forward to unite with the church; and if the names of all whom he helped by word and song to accept Jesus Christ as Savior, while he was Superintendent, could be called, there would rise up a great cloud of witnesses. Doubtless much of the seed sowed proved like that in the parable, seed by the wayside, in stony ground, among thorns, and came to naught. But there was left, nevertheless, a generous portion that brought forth, some thirty, some sixty, and some an hundred fold; and the harvest among the children from his sowing is only begun.
We saw but little of Mr. Bliss after he entered upon his work as an evangelist, but what we did see made us all feel that more and more the spirit of anointing was upon him. Whenever he could, he came back for a visit to the old place of toil and prayer, and never without stirring all our hearts by some word of cheer, or of incitement to larger devotion in the Master's service. Often he would set the blood bounding by a new song rendered as only he could do it; and very likely he would follow this with a prayer, whose childlike simplicity and earnestness and pathos revealed how intimate his communion was with God, and how he longed to be more and more used in winning souls. It is not too much to say that during these last years Christ was in all his thoughts; as one of his later songs expresses it:
My only song and story,
Is Jesus died for me;
My only hope of glory
The cross of Calvary.
Would that the spirit of such a discipleship might pervade all our singers, our Sunday School superintendents, our teachers, our church members. Then there would be singing in the spirit, praying in the spirit, working in the spirit, and heaven would be kept jubilant over souls rescued from sin. May God help all who read the record of this consecrated life to enter into the secret of its joy and its power - to be determined not to know anything save Jesus Christ and Him crucified. -- E.P. Goodwin