The following relatives of the deceased were present: Lydia Bliss, his mother; Mrs. M.E. Wilson and husband, and Mrs. Phebe Jennings and husband, sisters and brothers, Wm. H Jennings of Chicago, nephew of Mr. Bliss; Mrs. Andrus, sister of Lydia Bliss, with her son and daughter, the latter residing in Elmira, NY; the wife of Mr. McEwen, who was present; Mrs. Betsy Allen, grandmother of Mrs. Bliss; O.F. Young and wife, father and mother of Mrs. Bliss; A.P. Young and wife, O.W. Young and wife, George R. Young, Mrs. C.C. Barnes and husband, Mrs. J.L. Ellsworth, and Melita Young, brothers and sisters of Mrs. Bliss; Nathan and Thomas Young, Mrs. Daniel Pitcher, and Mrs. Dunham, uncles and aunts of Mrs. Bliss, with their families; also several cousins and more distant relatives were present. A remarkable fact in connection with this large circle is that they are all Christians.
The services were opened by the reading of the hymn: "God is the refuge of His Saints," by Rev. Mr. Keatley, pastor of the Methodist church. Mr. and Mrs. McGranahan, life-long friends of Mr. and Mrs. Bliss, and well known in musical circles, led the singing of the congregation.
The following scriptures were read by the pastor of the Baptist Church: John xvii, 18-24: Acts i, 7-11: Acts vii, 55-60: 1 Cor. xv, 12-23 and 50-58: 1 Thess. iv, 13-18.
Prayer was then offered by Rev. G.W. Chandler, pastor of the Methodist Church of Towanda.
The hymn, "Rock Of Ages" (set to music composed by Mrs. Bliss), was sung by the choir.
A report of a meeting held in Chicago, on the Sunday after the news of the disaster, was then read by Major Whittle, who made the following remarks, explaining the circumstances of Mr. and Mrs. Bliss from home and of his being on the ill-fated train:
We have to-day no remains of these beloved friends; none will ever be found; and I am asked to make a brief statement of the circumstances of their death. Mr. and Mrs. Bliss left their home the 30th of December and went to Towanda and Waverly. The last heard of them was a letter to the father on Thursday that they had bought tickets by way of the Lake Shore road, and expected to be in Chicago Friday night. The letter closed with the sentence, "God bless you all for time and eternity" - probably the last letter he ever wrote.
Mr. Bliss was expected in Chicago to help carry on the work of Messrs. Moody and Sankey. Saturday morning in Chicago, when I read of the terrible accident at Ashtabula, my heart was filled with fear, and I sent a telegram to Towanda to know whether they were there. It was some time before an answer could come. His friends supposed he was twelve or eighteen hours in advance of this train. During the day, while waiting, we went to the railroad office and tried to get dispatches from the train, but could only learn that it was a terrible accident, and that Mr. Bliss was not on the later train that left on Saturday afternoon. My alarm increased, but I could not take it home to my heart. But Saturday afternoon, a telegram was received from Mr. Burchell, who knew Mr. Bliss intimately, saying that "Bliss, wife and children are among the dead." And we started immediately for Ashtabula. We arrived there on Sunday morning, and for three days I was there while the wreck was removed, and every search was made that could be to find some relic of these dear friends. The few bodies recovered were unrecognizeable except in two or three instances. We thought then that the dear little children were there. And when the dispatch came from Towanda that the children were safe at home, I fell on my knees and thanked God that the children had been spared.
I came away Tuesday night. Everything had been removed. A stream of water five feet deep in the deepest and two feet in the shallowest part flowed by. The bottom was dragged. Eleven cars had fallen, one on top of another. The cars were broken in fragments. The lamps set fire to the oil. It was a fierce and a terribly stormy night. The woodwork, everything was burned, the iron melted and not a fragment of anything was left that we could find.
And so we are left here to-day with nothing of these friends but the thought of them in glory.
Mr. Burchell says he passed through the passenger coaches, and that at the last station before the accident, "the snow was heavy and I got out," he says, "to get some sandwiches, and found the two ordinary cars crowded and the smoking-car full. The next, a parlor car, was one third full. Mr. Bliss and family were there. I was in the next car. Behind that were three sleeping-cars." He gave the statement: "I believe Mr. Bliss got out through a window, expecting to get his wife and children through, but the car was blocked up and escape was impossible. I believe Bliss was burned to death trying to save his wife and children." This, he says, is his conjecture.
There is a story at Ashtabula of Mr. Bliss escaping and going back, saying his wife and child were in the wreck, and he would rather die with them than escape without them. I cannot find that this is true. That man had a wife and child there, and we know that Mr. Bliss had no child there. I suppose that some one seeing the man thought it was Mr. Bliss, and that gave rise to the supposition that the children were on board. We showed Mr. Bliss' picture to the passengers who were saved. We found one lady who recognized it.
As to how he came to be on the train: He left Waverly on the train which ought to have been at Buffalo at midnight on Thursday; but it met with an accident twenty miles from Waverly, was delayed, and did not arrive in Buffalo until five o'clock - too late to make connection. He left that train at Hornellsville, probably thinking that as they could not connect, they would wait over and get a night's rest. I find his name at the Osborne House, Thursday night. He took the train in Buffalo Friday noon, and so was brought to Ashtabula to be in the accident. His trunk went on safely.
That is all we know of the story. We are here, a circle of friends and relatives, and I tell you the story as we know it.
A favorite hymn of Mr. Bliss, "I Know Not the Hour When My Lord Will Come," was then very beautifully sung by the choir. Mr. McGranahan, the composer of the music of this hymn, the words of which were written by Mr. Bliss, was so overcome as to be unable to conclude the singing.
An address was then given by the pastor of the First Congregational Church in Chicago, of which Mr. and Mrs. Bliss were members at the time of their death, Rev. E.P. Goodwin, D.D. For nearly three years, Mr. Bliss had been chorister and Sunday School Superintendent of the church of which Mr. Goodwin is pastor. The following is Dr. Goodwin's address:
My friends, I feel that I have come here as a kind of representative of that great family that to-day all through the land bows under the grief that has gathered us, and mingles its tears and prayers with those of this dear circle. Indeed, I seem almost to be a member of this household, so personal to me is this affliction. This dear brother had been for years one with whom I had wrought for the Master in most delightful accord. Our aims were one, our sympathies in unison, our friendship hearty, and one of these precious children bears, as you may know, my name. I come hence not to speak in any formal way, but out of the depths of my heart to utter a few words of loving tribute to one whose character and work I delight to honor.
Let me connect what I have to say with two passages of Scripture, viz., Psalm cxvi, 15: "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints," Rev. xiv, 13: "And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth; yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them."
Dear friends, God makes no mistakes. He has made none in allowing the calamity which has gathered us here in sorrow, let us make none in reasoning about it. The significance of God's Providences does not lie in what we think but in what God says about them. In his testimony we can alone find sure anchorage for faith, sure solace for bereavement. Our reasonings, apart from His Word, instead of scattering the darkness, often deepen it; instead of lifting our burdens from our hearts, often magnify them and torture us with keener sense of helplessness. We can as easily reason the darkness out of a room as the darkness out of God's dealings. We get rid of the gloom when we stop debate, open the shutters, and let the light shine in. And we get rid of the gloom that enwraps us in these trial times of faith, when we stop arguing and throw open the windows of our souls to the light of God's Word.
The first thought, therefore, which I suggest in connection with this Providence, is that God's children are not to look upon death with dread, but to anticipate it with lightness of heart, and, by whatsoever form it may come, welcome and rejoice in it. If the death of God's saints is precious in His sight, and the day in which it comes better than the day of birth, surely His children need not be dismayed; much less need they go through life, as many do, oppressed and tortured by gloomy apprehensions of the last hour. Where God's face beams, our faces ought to brighten. Where God pronounces His benediction, and all the blessed of the Upper Presence join in special jubilee, we may at least dismiss our fears, and even though it be through tears, lift up our song.
I remember well when I could not say this. Death was the one depressing, despairful word of all Scripture. No sound ever sent such chills through my blood as the mournful knell that was wont to be rung out from the village church whenever there was a death in the community. A funeral was of all places the place of terror. The somber crepe fluttering so forbiddingly at the door, the closed blinds, the hushed voices, the grave faces, the robes of the mourners, the tears and sobs, the sepulchral utterances of the minister, the mournful hymns - all this went to make a burial service distasteful and gloomy in the extreme. From a child I never attended one, even of a relative, if it could be avoided. This feeling was dominant for years. Indeed, I was well on in the ministry, before the true teachings of Scripture were so apprehended as to break the hold of the pagan ideas which had begotten such dismay. But, thank God, the light of the Word as it is in these texts, and everywhere through these inspired utterances, came at last, and I saw death as a foe vanquished through Christ, its terrors all abolished, and the child of God privileged to go through life anticipating it as the hour of his grandest triumph, his highest exultation. Look now at the testimony of the Word. Even in Old Testament emphasizes this thought. The old patriarchs had no dread of dying. There is something beautiful even in the composure with which they heard the voice, and laid aside their tent-life for the better country. How significant the record that they "fell asleep," "were gathered to their fathers," "entered into rest." What more touching and home-like, and free from everything like fear, than the picture of a father, conscious that his last hour is close at hand, calling his children about his bed-side, declaring the fact of his near departure, giving them his dying counsels and benediction, and then quietly wrapping his mantle about him and lying down for the death angel to close his eyes. Take the death of Moses. First he was closeted with God! Then God rolled away the cloud from the mountain top, touched his eyes, and gave him a vision of that fair land, in all its length and breadth, which he had so coveted to enter. When He took him, as it were, in His arms, as a mother would take a child, and as the vision of the land of promise faded away, there came instead the vision of that other country, even the heavenly, of which the earthly inheritance was but the feeble type; and as its surpassing beauty burst upon his soul, he passed into the presence of the King and was clothed upon with a transfiguring glory. Who of us that would have drawn back dismayed from that dying hour, had it been permitted us to be there? Who that would have thought there was need of crepe, or sable plumes, or melancholy dirges to befit that burial?
But Moses is no exception. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of every saint. And God putting underneath the everlasting arms, giving now our last earthward look over all that is loveliest and best, and then swinging the gates and giving us to stand within the city and join the everlasting song, what is this to all God's chosen but death stripped of its terrors, and the valley of the shadow transformed into the shining highway by which the children of the Kingdom enter into glory. By the witness of manifold Christian experiences there is blessed reality in this. How many times have we stood by the dying and seen the light of heaven break over the pale face, and all the lines of pain and trouble seem to be smoothed out as God has spoken to His chosen. And how many times have we seen the thin lips part while the countenance shone, and caught some feebly whispered word, jubilant testimony that death was robbed of its sting and the grave of its victory.
And this is the spirit of the Gospel. It knows nothing of dread, nothing of depression or dismay as connected with the dying of God's people. On the contrary, every witness respecting it is of unqualified cheer. It is "falling asleep," "entering into rest," "going home," being "present with the Lord." It is hence that which is to be coveted, and to secure which is inestimable gain. Instead, therefore, friends, of going up and down in the world with despondency in our faces and wailing on our tongues because death confronts us and we cannot escape, let us know a more excellent way. Let us no longer borrow the eyes of pagan mythology and see death as a hideous demon roaming the earth for victims with an insatiate fury. Let us see him rather through the sweeter unveiling of the Gospel, a blessed angel of light come to set us free from burdens, toil, vexation, pain, everything that annoys, and to give us welcome into the ineffable and abiding blessedness of our Father's house.
It does not matter, as respects this sunny forelook, in what way death may come. We are wont to emphasize the terribleness of a catastrophe like this; and viewed in its physical aspects it is terrible beyond all comprehension. But this text-truth holds good, nevertheless. can you imagine anything more torturing than the death that Stephen died; to be set up as a target for paving stones, and to have bone after bone broken and life fairly battered out? It makes one shudder to conceive of it. There must have been the keenest pain; but do you imagine Stephen's thoughts were absorbed in that? Ah, no. As the cries of rage rang in his ears, and the cruel missiles rang down upon him, there opened to him in the sky a vision of glory that made him forget everything else. He saw the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God; and gazing upon that face, the face of his risen and glorified Lord, he no more heeded the crashing stones, no more the clamoring outcries, but with a prayer of forgiveness on his lips, "fell asleep" as sweetly as a child.
Our brother's anticipations of death were all of this unclouded, hopeful kind. You find no word of gloom in his hymns, but when he touches the thought of death he almost invariably breaks out into a strain of peculiar exultation. Take that beautiful song, "That Will Be Heaven for Me," sing in the opening services. It reads like a prophecy, and it exactly represents its author's feeling.
I know not the hour when my Lord will come
To take me away to His own dear home;
But I know that His presence will lighten the gloom;
And that will be glory for me."
Or take that other prophetic song, "There's A Light In The Valley:"
I shall find down the valley no alarms,
For my blessed Savior's smile I can see;
He will bear me in His loving, mighty arms,
There's a light in the valley for me.
Death, no matter what its form, had for Philip Bliss no terrors. He believed with all his soul, that Jesus Christ came to "abolish death," to destroy him that had the power of death - that is, the devil - and deliver them who through fear of death were all their life-time subject to bondage. Hence, though leading his life in the daily expectation that the end might come, he was not only undismayed, but overflowing with gladness. I doubt not that if, after that terrific plunge, there was a moment of consciousness, his soul was full of peace, and was borne up in its chariot of fire with a shout of victory. And that serenity in facing death by whatever form it may come, and that triumph over it, is the privilege of all God's children to have.
The other thought connected with these Scripture texts which I suggest is, that the kingdom of Christ is in no sense so related to human instrumentalities that when any of the drop out it suffers loss or hindrance. We are apt to think that it does. Our plans are largely conditioned by circumstances as to their results. If a crop fails, or a war breaks out, or a panic occurs, or sickness comes, our hopes are wrecked; and we are so conscious that we are hedged about by possible mishaps, and can forecast no plans which may not be frustrated, that we naturally think it must be so with God. Like us, He must have His foring times and seasons, must have His chosen instruments and agencies; and if these fail, there must be great difficulty in making their place good, and the kingdom, hence, be checked. We have a feeling that certain honored laborers are so thoroughly identified with the urging forward of the Gospel that they cannot be spared; that their places cannot be filled. Mr. Moody's words over the sad tidings were the instinctive utterance of thousands of Christian hearts: "Know ye not that a prince and a great man is fallen this day in Israel? Who shall take the place of this sweet singer, and carry on his noble work for Christ? It seems as if this consecrated voice and pen could not be spared, as if they had hardly crossed the threshold of their mission for the good of men and the glory of God." But I go back to the word of God, and the history of His church, and I say, God takes in all the meaning of this providence, and He has made no mistake. Suppose we had been among the chosen people when God called Moses up higher, and the question had been put to us, Can you spare Moses? Shall God take him and provide you with another leader? We should undoubtedly have made the quick answer, "Spare Moses? the man whose counsel is as the word of the Everlasting One? him who communes with God face to face and holds back by his prayers the judgements we deserve? him who led us up out of Egypt, gave us our laws, our ritual of worship, and has brought us safely through all our enemies to the very borders of the land of promise! No, now more than ever we need him. The land bristles with sons of Anak, and is full of fenced cities, how can we possess it? We must have him for counselor, for intercessor, for captain of the host. Take anyone else, but spare us Moses. If he be taken, all hope dies." But God had other plans. He knew how to take Moses and yet provide for Israel so that they should go forward to the immediate possession of the land and the longed-for and abundant fruitage of their hopes.
Or, to put the case stronger, consider how indispensable, judged from a human standpoint, was the continuance in His work of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was the embodiment of the mind and heart of God. He knew all truth, and exactly how to unfold and apply it to men's hearts. He knew all wants, and woes, and wrongs, and was eager to put them all away. He was God incarnate, and down on men's level that He might feel the beating of their hearts, catch the cry of their need and break the curse of sin. How could He be spared, and men be equally helped, and His Gospel pressed on with equal potency? Who could open the blind eyes, unstop the deaf ears, empty all the hospitals and asylums and infirmaries as He did? Who could so unfold the words of heaven, bind up the broken hearts, cast out the evil spirits, prove to men that God had not forgotten the world nor had its control wrested from Him by the devil? Yet the work of Christ only spread itself over three and a half years, and before even that brief career is ended, we hear from his lips the strange words, "It is expedient for you that I go away."
But what was the effect of Christ's departure? Why, that after He left the world, there was more of Christ in it than before. The promise of the Comforter, conditioned upon His going away, was fulfilled, and the power of the Holy Ghost came upon the whole company of believers. And thus, while the Lord Himself ascends to heaven, there to carry on the work of His intercession for His Church, these anointed men and women, in whose hearts the one absorbing purpose is to magnify Jesus Christ, go out and are multiplied a thousand fold, and spread the knowledge of His Gospel to the very ends of the earth. Christ remaining in the world is a single personality, teaching, healing, saving and keeping his band of followers clinging timidly to His skirts, only echoing faintly His words and repeating feebly His works. Christ gone from the world and ascended into glory is potentially Christ reproduced among all His disciples, and these going forth with unparalleled enthusiasm, boldness and power, preaching Christ's Gospel, re-enacting Christ's life among all the nations and ages. So it is of every great worker. When he seems to drop his toil, he only begins it. While he enters into rest, God takes up the work which he let fall, and sends it out with His endorsement to repeat and multiply itself while the world stands.
Do you suppose that when Charlotte Elliot wrote those words now so familiar in all lands:
Just as I am without one plea, she dreamed of their destiny? She lived in one of the quiet, unknown hamlets of Old England; and hardly one in a score that sing this sweet song knows her name. But how God has taken that one hymn, born, doubtless, in the closet, and sent it round the world, and down through all generations to save souls and exalt Christ. So will it be of our brother's work. Already witness has come to us that these Gospel songs have been translated into Chinese; and not long since, a missionary in Southern Africa wrote home, that while on one of his tours to establish a station for preaching the Gospel, he heard what seemed familiar music in one of the native kraals which he was passing. Curious to know what was the occasion, he entered the hut and found the Zulu children all engaged in singing in their native dialect, "Hold The Fort!"
By a forelook kindred to this would God have us all inspired for our work. It may be true, it ought to be true of every loyal disciple, that the fruitage for Christ after death should be to that preceding it, as the harvest that wave over the prairies to the first handful of seed scattered thereon. And when such leaders as our brother are called home, not only will they being dead yet speak, but their very dying, instead of checking the kingdom, shall urge it on. There will be a Joshua to follow every Moses, an Elisha every Elijah, and working through all, the counsel that never knows defeat.
Turning now to some features of our brother's character which have impressed me, let me notice first, that wonderful sunniness or hopefulness which marked his life. I think I might safely call him the most joyous Christian I have ever known. It was a rare thing to see a shadow even transiently clouding his face. I remember when he came to me with one of his Sunday School singing-books just ready for the press, and desired help as to a fitting name. While we were conversing, suddenly his countenance lighted up with the words, "I believe I have it: why not call it Sunshine?" And some of you will recall how, on the cover, there was emblazoned the full orbed splendor of the sun. So when "Gospel Songs" came out, the cover bore the same device with an open Bible in the heart of the rays. No symbol could have been more apt. His life, if not always led on under a clear sky, always had the sun shining through the clouds. Not that he was exempt from trials. he had his share of earthly disappointments, and the keen discipline they bring. He knew what it was to be misapprehended; to have mean and selfish motives attributed to him; to be talked of as having a desire for self-glorification in leading the praise-service of the sanctuary; to be accused of singing for pay. If any of you have known what it is to have the conceit fasten upon people's minds that you are other than you seem, sordid when you aim to be unselfish, hypocritical when you seek to be devout, you can understand Mr. Bliss' feelings under such imputations. Yet he never gave visible token of it. And he knew sore trials. He knew what it is to stand by the bed-side of a beloved wife, and press the hand that seems growing chill with the frost of death, and be watching the face for the last look, and day after day looking for the dreaded end to come. It was a marvel to me how he could go through this and be so calm. I thought it must be by a prodigious effort of will; but I found, as I knew him better, that it was the consciousness of God's tender presence and upbearing love that sustained him. His anchorage was within the vail, and he believed and proved that God would be as good as His word, and keep him in perfect peace whose mind was stayed upon Him. So when the younger of these precious children seemed daily slipping out of his embrace, and he bent over the crib that he expected would so soon be empty, to take what might prove the last kiss, his hopefulness suffered no eclipse. There seemed always to be an open door between his soul and the city of light.
As might be anticipated, his hymns and music are full of hope and exultation. There is hardly a melancholy verse or strain among them all. Almost invariably, both songs and music swell and grow jubilant as they move on. Hallelujahs ring all through them. And not a few, however they begin, land us in the glory of the better country before they close. Glad tidings are indeed in them, and are their inspiration.
When the sweet singer put his magnificent voice into the rendering, charged with the fervor of his sympathetic soul, as it was his delight to do, they that listened had a hint of what the joy of the Upper Presence will be. His buoyancy was contagious. I have known him, when a prayer meeting dragged, when very likely the minister was dispirited and others shared the feeling, to sweep his hand over the keys of the piano, and alike by touch and voice scatter the despondency as a burst of sunshine scatters fog; and this because he sang as he felt. On one of the last occasions when he was with us, in a flying vi to our city made during his work as an evangelist, he came in late and sat in the rear of the room. Espying him, I called him forward to sing the hymn entitled "My Prayer." He struck the piano keys, stopped, and reading the words in the latter part of the first stanza, "More joy in His service," said, "I don't think I can sing that as a prayer any more. It seems to me I have as much joy in serving the blessed Master as it is possible for me to bear."
And the very last time he was present in a prayer gathering, after listening to the testimony of a number of young converts, he stepped to the piano, and after a word expressive of his delight in hearing the new voices, he said he would sing a new song that he hoped would encourage those who had recently come out for Christ. Then in his own royal way, that thrilled every heart, he gave us, "Hold Fast Til I Come:"
Oh spirit o'erwhelmed by thy failures and fears,
Look up to thy Lord, tho' with trembling and tears;
Weak faith, to thy call seem the heav'ns only dumb?
To thee is the message, "Hold Fast Till I Come."
Hold fast till I come;
Hold fast till I come;
A bright crown awaits thee;
Hold fast till I come;
This was his spirit always. Mr. Moody says God cannot use a discouraged Christian. If that be so, it is easy to see one prime factor of Brother Bliss' success in his work. He never lost heart, and so never compelled God to set him aside and use some one else.
And this is what the Master wants us all to be, what the world greatly needs to see, - buoyant, cheerful, singing believers. The current idea is that the religion of Christ is something burdensome, disheartening, a sort of sackcloth-and-ashes life, chiefly led on through humiliations, fightings, fears. Christian people are largely responsible for this. Like the children of Israel in the desert, we are always ready to murmur at the roughness of the way, the lack of comforts, the bitter handlings of Providence. Many grumble far more than they give thanks. They forget the daily manna, the sufficient grace, the fellowship of the Spirit, the better country. Oh, the darkness that settles on so many Christian faces, and the despondency that enwraps so many Christian lives. How little do we impress those that know us best as being the children of a King! How seldom do they think of us as possessors of incalculable treasure, walking ever through green pastures, fearing no evil, having God's arms abut us, and our faces shining with the joy of our communion with Christ and the anticipations of the glory that is only a few heart-beats away! I fear that instead of this, as they see our somber faces and hear our dolorous witness, they think of treadmills and service under the lash. This ought not so to be! Dear brethren, let this life so overflowing with gladness help us to better things. Let it help us to that appropriation of our privileges as those who have been redeemed, delivered from condemnation, made now the children of God, the heirs of the kingdom, that shall banish doubt and keep the songs of jubilee breaking continually from our lips.
Another trait of our brother's character was his thorough unselfishness. It seems strange that he should have been even suspected of being sordid or eager for self-glorification. And yet there are those, as has been intimated before, that though him covetous of praise and pay. Never was suspicion more groundless, nor was there the slightest taint of sordidness about him. When he entered upon his career as a Gospel singer, his profession was yielding him a handsome revenue, and (as his publishers have assured me), he was certain to realize affluence. He turned his back on these prospects, and like the brother with whom he was associated, he surrendered income and ambitions, and with a family to be cared for, unhesitatingly committed himself to a life that promised not a penny. And he never murmured, never was downcast and never regretted the decision. Some of the facts respecting this unselfishness are very significant as showing how completely this spirit ruled him. Take that grand tribute paid him by Mr. Moody in the Tabernacle at Chicago last Sabbath morning. He stated that the royalty on the Gospel Songs and Hymns amounted to $60,000. He proposed to Mr. Bliss that he should take $5,000 of this sum and provide himself with a home. Mr. Bliss promptly declined the offer. They had agreed, as he felt, that whatever income was derived from the books should be devoted to benevolent uses. And he added, that if his Master was able to go without a home, he was sure he could unti some other way opened to secure it. Mr. John Church, the Cincinnati publisher of his music, said to me, "When Mr. Moody returned from Europe the last time, Mr. Bliss had nearly ready for publication a book which I am certain would have netted not less than $10,000 or $12,000. Notwithstanding, when Mr. Moody wished him to issue a volume jointly with Mr. Sankey for use in revival services, he at once complied, and without a word of regret over the great pecuniary sacrifice, transferred all his choicest songs and music to the new book." Such things were characteristic, not exceptional. He had what I fear comparatively few Christians have: a charity fund to which he sacredly devoted a given part of his income. I do not know what that proportion was, but it has come to my knowledge that on occasion it yielded $1,000 in six months. No matter what needs pressed, that fund was never invaded. And the significant thing about it is that it never seemed to run dry. He has put repeatedly into my hands sums ranging from $10 to $25 to be used among the poor. And when I expressed surprise at his being able to spare it, his reply was that God was very good to him and he never lacked. I have known him to hand his pocket-book to our church visitor after some recital of suffering or destitution and tell her to help herself in behalf of those in need. I suspect that when the charity fund failed through the demands upon it, there was a fresh assignment of income. Would that more of the Lord's people would follow that practice.
Then our brother was always glad to lend himself to every service whereby he could lighten the burdens of any afflicted heart. He never spared himself in the line of ministering comfort at funerals, and services among the poor, and where the Shepherd had taken children to the upper fold. now in the cottage of the day-laborer, now in the attics, or tenement houses where poverty and wretchedness abound, everywhere he was to be found scattering gloom, upbearing faith, solacing aching hearts, preaching Christ with the marvels of his song. How often as he sang have the tears and sobs ceased and the light broken in on the faces full of dismay! There are many homes where the music of that voice bringing God's comforts to the soul in its trouble, lingers in a memory that will never die.
So when our brother sang, as he so often did, by the bedsides of God's afflicted children, he was greatly blessed in bringing out the bright side of God's providences. I have in mind a sister to whom the night brings no darkness and the day no sun, who rarely missed a visit from this pilgrim singer when he was in the city. And I have it from her lips that when that silver voice rang through hear heart, and set for the Christian's hope and triumph, her repinings ceased, her depression passed away, and forgetful of herself, she was filled with joyful thoughts of Christ, and with the spirit of acquiescence in His will.
Naturally, this unselfishness found its highest expression in devotion to the work of winning souls. Always single-hearted, and faithful in using his opportunities for doing good, after he took up evangelistic labor he came to have a peculiar intensity of zeal in spiritual things. He hungered for more knowledge of Christ, more of the indwelling power of the Spirit, and this to the end that he might save men. In his later years, this desire was very marked. His testimonies in social meetings always emphasized it; his daily conversation had it for a constant theme; his appeals to Sabbath School children, his songs were full of it. Even his ordinary correspondence, not only that of a friendly character, but that relating to business, was permeated with it. From the letters I have seen, I am constrained to believe that during the last three years, those letters, of whatever kind, were exceptional, that did not contain some word of earnest witness, encouragement or appeal in behalf of Christ and His salvation. I saw, the other day, a purely business letter in which toward the end was a most affectionate entreaty to accept Christ and live for Him. I remember a letter to a member of the choir, in which he pressed upon her very earnestly the claims of her Savior, and she traces to that appeal the beginning of her life of faith. And how many of you can bear like witness to his solicitude for your salvation? In how many of your homes has he prayed during his transient home visits? With how many of you has he had personal interviews concerning your eternal welfare? How faithful he was to his Master and to you in these days of his last fellowship on earth. When he instituted those Bible readings and plead for souls, neither you nor he dreamed the end was so near, and that this was his last work for the Lord he loved. But if he had known it, wherein could he have been more faithful? Up and down this valley he went day after day, telling the old, old story, and seeking to persuade all who heard, to believe and be saved; and, as I learn, nearly a score of new-born souls rejoice to-day in the hope of eternal life through these labors.
This was his spirit always. He never had a choir rehearsal that was not opened with prayer; and the burden of his prayer was, that the singing might exalt Christ. In the center of one of the stained windows of the transept of the church was a large crimson cross, and around it the words, "God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." Mr. Bliss often called attention to that symbol and its motto, and said, "I am glad the cross is always before us when we sing. Let us seek to forget ourselves and magnify Christ."
A little incident that occurred at the time of the burning of our church, in January 1873, illustrates this. The front gable of the church was surmounted by a large cross, and underneath it was an immense window studded with purple stars. As the flames rolled up from within, the starry emblazonry shone out very beautifully; and when, climbing higher, they fairly garlanded the cross, and, standing there among the gleaming stars, it seemed to dash the fiery billows back as with majestic disdain, the sight was grandly impressive. Coming up to a young man, a member of the Sabbath School, Mr. Bliss laid his hand upon his shoulder and said, "James, why not give your heart to the Savior to-night? Why not come to the cross this very hour? See it yonder! it was never so beautiful, never so dear to me as now." And I have it from the lips of the young man, now a member of the church, that those words on the pavement brought him to a decision, and then and there he planted the cross in his heart. So this dear brother wrought ever. And no words could more truly set forth the one absorbing purpose that ruled his life, than those of one of his later and most effective pieces (No Other Name):
My only song and story
Is - Jesus died for me;
My only hope of glory
The cross of Calvary.
Would that the thousands of Christian people whose hearts are saddened by this providence, might, through it, come to know a spirit of like coveting of souls.
I name as a final characteristic that our brother was preeminently a singer of the Gospel. Taking both songs and music into the estimate, I think I may safely call him the Gospel singer of the age. Certainly I know of no one in the whole range of hymnology that has put Gospel truth into song with the clearness, and fullness and power which stamps the compositions of P.P. Bliss. Many of his songs, especially his later ones, are little else than Scripture versified and set to music. Take, for example:
o Jesus of Nazareth Passeth By
o Free From The Law
o Look And Live
o Whosoever Will May Come
o Hear Ye the Glad Good News from Heaven?
o Almost Persuaded
o Seeking To Save
o No Other Name
There is Gospel enough in almost any one of them to lead a troubled soul to Christ. And in no hymns with which I am acquainted, not even Charles Wesley's, is the doctrine of salvation by the blood of Christ as the sacrifice for sin, so clearly stated, so fully emphasized; and no wonder - these songs were born in the closet and at the foot of the cross.
This is why, as Mr. Moody testifies, no songs so lay hold of people's hearts. In words and music they are surcharged with the very spirit of the Gospel. And herein lies the secret of the power which they are destined to wield in after years. Take the hymns that have wrought themselves imperishably into the affections of God's people, such, for example, as:
o Rock of Ages
o Just As I Am
o Nearer My God to Thee
o Jesus, Lover of My Soul
o All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name
and what is the reason of the place they hold? Obviously this, that they embody truths which go to the heart of the Gospel, truths that have to do with the most vital experiences of the soul in seeking and working out salvation. So of these songs of Philip Bliss. And this is why the Chinese and the Zulus sing them. They do not sing "Hail Columbia," or the "Star Spangled Banner." They do not care for the story of our native land; they have no interest in either its past or its future. But the story of Jesus Christ, of the Lamb slain that sinners might have pardon, that story finds a response in their hearts. They know they are in darkness. They know they are in trouble. They know the curse of sin binds its yoke upon their souls, keeps its cry of woe upon their lips. And when they hear these songs, they recognize the offer of help, the opening up of a way of deliverance. In a word, the conscious want of men the world over is Christ, and these songs preach Him. They press him so fully, that if a ship were wrecked among the South Sea Islands, where no missionary has ever yet set foot, and the survivors should have no Bliss, [ typist's note: the original indeed says "Bliss" here, but I wonder if the intended word was "Bibles..." ] nothing but a copy of the "Gospel Songs," I should expect in five years to find churches and Sunday Schools and revivals and missions among the heathen round about.
They have been most wonderfully blest already. At the farewell meeting in London, after the labors of Brother Moody and Brother Sankey were closed in that city, Lord Shaftesbury said that "if Mr. Sankey had done no more than teach the people to sing 'Hold The Fort,' he would have conferred an inestimable blessing on the British Empire." Mr. Sankey bears witness that these songs laid hold of the English people with wonderful power. Major Cole says, "the ragged children of London, children who are largely street waifs, living in the utmost ignorance and degradation, flocked to hear and sing these songs till they had ten thousand of them at a gathering. And to this day, they are to be heard in the streets, in the courtyards, stables, shops, factories, homes, everywhere. Mothers rock their babes to sleep with them alike among the rich and the poor. Nobility and peasantry find common inspiration in them, and to the suffering and dying of every rank they minister inexpressible blessing.
But their grandest work, at home and abroad, has been in preaching the Gospel and winning souls. Let me give a single illustration of many connected with the recent revival services in Chicago. One of the reformed inebriates says that he had been for years one of the hardest of drinkers. His friends had given him up as a hopeless case, and he had given up himself and expected to die as he lived, and meet a drunkard's awful doom. In this condition, he came to Chicago, and one day, when more than half-intoxicated, wandered aimlessly with the crowd into the Tabernacle, and found a seat in the gallery. He was too intoxicated to know much about what was going on, and did not remember anything about the text or the sermon. During the evening, Mr. Sankey sang, "What Shall The Harvest Be?" and when he came to the words -
Sowing the seed of a lingering pain,
Sowing the seed of a maddened brain,
Sowing the seed of a tarnished name,
Sowing the seed of eternal shame; O, what shall the harvest be?
the singer's voice rang through the inebriate like a trump of judgement, and fairly sobered him. The conscience so long dead was roused and began to lash him with the words of the song. His wasted, wretched life passed in painful review before him. The promise of his youth blighted, the ambitions and hopes of manhood turned to ashes, his family beggared and disgraced; his name a byword of shame, his friends among the pure and good all alienated, and his fellowship only with the low and vile, his whole career one dark, damning record of folly and sin, and before him a gathering night of hopeless despair - he could not endure the torment of such a vision. It was hell before the time. So he went out and tried to drown the song in drink. But it would not die. It rang in his ears by day and by night, and forced him again and again to the Tabernacle. By and by his sin so burdened him that he went to Mr. Sawyer's inquiry room, and there God met him, took his feet out of the horrible pit, planted them on the Rock and put a new song into his mouth. And now he is doing with his might to help others bound by the same curse find the blessed liberty of the Gospel.
This is only one case of scores, that during this single revival have been led into the kingdom through the agency of these hymns. So it has been elsewhere, so it will continue to be. I believe, with Mr. Moody, that God raised up Philip Bliss as truly as Charles Wesley to save men by singing the Gospel. And herein lies the guaranty of a mighty harvest of souls in the days to come. Few of us have ever read John Wesley's or Isaac Barrow's sermons; but there are not of us who do not sing Charles Wesley's hymns, and Isaac Watts' versions of the Psalms. The preacher's horizon relatively to the singer's is an exceedingly narrow one. He may reach the men of his city, his country, his age, possibly a handful in other lands and in after years; but the singers voice ranges all lands, all ages. Not only does it not die, but it gathers potency with every cycle of years. Such hymns as Rock of Ages, Just As I Am, My Faith Looks Up to Thee, will be sung as long as there are saints to be helped or sinners to be saved. Every generation will only widen their influence and magnify their power as agencies which God delights to honor. I do not hesitate to say that some of my Brother Bliss' songs will go down the future side by side with these in their ministry of Christ and salvation. And the fruitage of his life before God called him, blessed as it was, compared with that which shall yet be garnered, will prove only as the first fruits to an ingathering that only the arithmetic of heaven can measure. He dropped the seeds by handfuls, but the harvest shall wave like Lebanon.
While I say these things, I do not forget how thoroughly identified with our brother in all his aims and work, was his dear wife, over whose early going home we both mourn and rejoice to-day. She not only cheerfully accepted the call of Providence which took her husband so largely from home, but with constant and potent aid of voice and pen she helped to crown his work with an abundant success. He appreciated such cooperation, and often recognized it, saying that he "was more indebted to his wife than any one else for what he was and what he had done." "Lovely and pleasant in their lives, in their death they were not divided. Their memories are alike precious, and their works will alike follow them.
In the mountains of the Tyrol, it is the custom of the mothers, and wives, and children, to go forth when the twilight gathers, to welcome home their husbands, and fathers and sons, from their care of the flocks up the mountain heights. And as they go they sing a strain or two of some national air, and then listen, till apparently from the clouds there float down to them the answering refrains, and they know that all is well, and that ere long they will see the faces and be clasped in the arms of those they love. Something so may we not venture to imagine it here. In the deepening twilight of our sorrow, we lift our eyes to the uplands of the better country, longing for the fellowship of these dear departed ones. And as we look, the sweet strains they taught us and which we were wont to sing together, break instinctively from our lips, and lo, in the pauses of our song there seems to float down to us from the heavenly heights the refrain borrowed from our lips, "Watching and waiting for you." Dear friends, we are the pilgrims, and these who have gone before are the ones at home. And a little way on, a few more steps only of this rough and thorny way, after a few more pains, and griefs, and tears, and a little more blessed toil for Christ and for souls, we shall receive their welcome, share their joy, and abide in our Father's house forever.
I should be unfaithful to the spirit of my brother, and to the significance of this Providence if I did not add a word of solemn admonition. Dear friends, you have been wont, some of you, to meet the appeals of the Gospel for your personal acceptance of Christ, with that old excuse, "when I have a convenient season." Very possibly you used it, or had it in your thought, when you were pressed by my brother during these last meetings held here the week before he died. You may have sat where you now do, and as his loving eye searched you out, and his tender entreaty fell on your ear, you may have answered, "Yes I ought to decide for Christ, I ought to make sure of the salvation of my soul, and when I have a convenient season, I will." Ah, that hoary lie, how many souls it has deluded into perdition. What a mighty witness this catastrophe to the Scripture doctrine - now is the accepted time. Suppose our brother had gone through that train on that fatal evening and said to his fellow-travelers, "We propose to have a little Gospel meeting in the parlor car. We will sing a few hymns, have a word or two of Scripture, and a few testimonies and prayers as any feel inclined. We should be glad to have you there." Suppose, further, that such a meeting had been held, and that just before the train reached Ashtabula, Mr. Bliss had said: "Friends, this has been a delightful hour. It has made heaven seem very near, and eternal things very real. It is not to be expected that we shall ever meet again, and now before we part, I feel impressed to invite any who have not yet accepted Christ, to receive Him now. Now He stands at the door. Now the Spirit calls. Tomorrow may be too late. I will sing a little song and while I sing, will not those present without conscious peace with God, make the great decision." Then, after singing in his touching way, "Almost Persuaded," imagine that just as the whistle sounded for their last stop, he closed the meeting. What various comments would have followed. Let us hope that there would have been one or two at least to accept the offered salvation and to pass from death unto life. But the greater number would doubtless have stood aloof. Some would have said, "This gentleman sings well, I should like to hear him in a concert where they had something besides hymns." Some, "This matter of salvation is of great importance; I have often wished I were a Christian, and when New Year's comes round I believe I will set about being one in earnest." Others, "These evangelists are all alike; they don't think it impertinent to interrupt a game of cards, as this one did ours, or a pleasant story, or conversation. Then they are always talking about 'blood' and 'wrath' and despair, and making every one feel so uncomfortable. I wish they would keep their religion to themselves." Possibly some would have sneered, and as they stepped on board as the train started from Ashtabula, said, "What folly to be frightened into getting on one's knees and crying for forgiveness here on the cars. There will be time enough for that when we get home." Then a moment of adjustment to their places, the cards dealt, the books resumed, the jests exchanged, the storm noted and their watches examined to see how late they would be at Cleveland: then that terrific plunge - the convenient season forever beyond their reach!
Oh, friend, if you are here unsaved, let the voice of this dreadful calamity emphasize that one word now. The word of God has no invitation, no promise for to-morrow. Repent now. Believe now. Escape for thy life now. May God help you every one to believe this day on the Lord Jesus Christ and to be saved.
At the close of Mr. Goodwin's address, Major Whittle announced as a closing song a hymn that had just been found among Mr. Bliss' papers - probably his latest work - entitled "He Knows." He remarked that had Mr. Bliss desired to leave a special message of comfort to his bereaved friends appropriate to their present calamity, he could not have left anything more beautiful or more comforting.
So I go on in the dark, not knowing,
I would not if I might;
I would rather walk with God in the dark
Than walk alone in the light;
I would rather walk with Him by faith
Than walk alone by sight.
Before the singing of the hymn, Major Whittle briefly addressed the people as follows:
I cannot but say a word to God's people who are here in the village. It seems to me that Christian men and women here should consecrate themselves anew to God. It is not a light thing to have the providence of God come to any of us as it has come to you. You have had two of God's servants among you. Mrs. Bliss stood shoulder to shoulder with her husband, consecrated to God, ripening for Heaven; a noble Christian woman; my sister in Christ Jesus. I loved her as I loved her husband. You have had these two servants of God and they have left their testimony here. Dear friends, I would not want to die in this village professing to be a Christian and go up to God with a barren record.
Some of you went to school with them and know how right down through they were. Take up this work. Let the memory of this dear brother inspire us. Let his songs inspire us. His heart was here in Rome. He prayed for you here in Rome. He loved these hills. This valley was dear to him.
A year ago he started a union Sabbath School, for he loved the children. Consecrate yourselves anew to this work. Let his name be attached to a union Sunday School. And as the echo of his glorious voice has rung over these hills, may it never die away till we are called to meet him in glory.
You loved that noble man as a brother. You loved his wife, that dear, dear sister. You could not bear to have a word said against him. But you grieved Philip Bliss in the deepest sympathy of his heart. When he looked back upon these hills for the last time, he carried away an ache in his heart that many of you had a part in putting there. You never have given your hearts to his Savior. Philip Bliss loved Jesus Christ; and that anybody he loved should not love Jesus Christ made his heart ache. All the best impulses of your heart are upon the side of Jesus. My friends, I beg of you in the name of Christ, in the name of Philip Bliss, in the name of his dear wife who grew up in your valley, and is now in Heaven, I beg of you, young women, young men, middle aged, give your hearts to God.
I do pray God that this may be a blessed day to this valley, to these pastors, and to friends all. And I want Brother Goodwin to lead us in prayer before we sing, that we may consecrate ourselves to the service of our Master, and that you will decide: I take Philip Bliss' Savior as my Savior, his God as my God.
The Elmira (New York) Advertiser, from which we have largely drawn for the materials for this chapter, says:
The services were about two hours and a half in duration and were very solemn and impressive throughout. The many relatives of the deceased, and the fact of this having been the home of their childhood, and many present remembering them as schoolmates and early friends, made it seem to the whole community like a household grief. Never has any event in the history of this beautiful valley so profoundly moved its population. Mr. and Mrs. Bliss were enthroned in the hearts of the people. Their memory will linger long round those beautiful hills and among the people of the Wysocken Valley; the place they loved to call their earthly home. His last labor for the Master was done here. During the two weeks of his holiday visit, he held almost nightly meetings and visited from house to house, inviting his friends to accept Christ. God blessed his labors, and a score or more during his visit turned to the Savior.
At an afternoon service on the day of the funeral, many more who had been impressed during Mr. Bliss' labors publicly manifested their decision to accept Christ and commence a Christian life.
By special request, a union meeting was also held in Towanda in the evening - a memorial service participated in by all the pastors and people. Rev. Darwin Cook, pastor of Mr. and Mrs. Bliss twenty years ago in Rome, who gave Mr. Bliss his first encouragement to devote himself to the composition of music, and who married them, was present and offered prayer. Upon invitation, at the close, a large number rose as desiring the prayers of Christians that they might enter into a Christian experience.