“Let The Lower Lights Be Burning” was written more than a century ago, and those of us who were brought up on Wednesday Night Prayer Meetings during the 1940s might remember the melody and the words.
It was written by Phillip Paul Bliss, who was inspired by a sermon he heard while living in Chicago. In that sermon, the preacher talked about a sailing vessel, whose captain was trying to find Cleveland Harbor in the midst of a storm at night.
As the captain’s ship approached land, he could see the light house, but he could not see any lower lights. He signaled the lighthouse keeper that he must find a port.
The lighthouse keeper signaled the skipper to come along the shore as close as he could to find the channel that was the entrance to the safety of the bay. As he drew near, he shouted to the keeper: “Where are the lower lights?”
The keeper responded: “They have all gone out for the night. Can you make the harbor?”
“We must,” the captain said, “or we will perish.”
Without the lower lights to guide them the skipper, the crew and the ship crashed into the rocks, and many on board were lost.
The preacher brought the message home with these words:
“Brothers and sisters. the Master will take care of the lighthouse. Let us keep the lower lights burning.”
Bliss said he was not sure what the “lower lights” were, but he found out that the lower lights are the lights from windows of the houses built along the shore of the channel. These were the lights that enabled vessels to come into the harbor at night, through a narrow channel of the harbor’s mouth.
In the preacher’s story, all the people had gone to bed, so all the lights were out.
The preacher who Bliss listened to that night said the story is a reminder to all how important we are to those around us.
He said so many are “lost and tempest tossed and those of us who know and love the Lord can help them make the harbor through our encouragement, love and guidance.”
And in the end, the preacher said, how wonderful if we could be the means of rescue.
(The first time I wrote this I was touched by the story, but the second time (right now) I got to thinking how a good lawyer could pin the responsibility of keeping the lower lights aglow on the harbor master, and no one would ever to have to worry about keeping the lower lights burning.
Here is the hymn titled “Let the Lower Lights Be Burning” by Philip Paul Bliss:
“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 the wave!
“Some poor strugglng, sinking seaman you may rescue, you may save.
“Trim your feeble lamp, my brother, some poor sailor, tempest tossed.
“Trying now to make the harbor, in the he darkness may be lost.
“Let the lower lights keep burning!
“Send a gleam across the wave.
“Trying now to make the harbor,
“Some poor sailor may be lost.”
In reference to my insert about how a good lawyer could make a great case to make the harbor master responsible for those lower lights, I did not mean to take away from the beauty of the religious metaphor.
Gillis Morgan is an associate professor emeritus of journalism at Auburn University and an award-winning columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org