Choir Notes

Keep the Lower Lights Burning
From Music and the Spoken Word
Delivered By: Lloyd D. Newell 

A long time ago, noted preacher Dwight Moody told his congregation a story about a boat, helplessly rocking and plunging on a stormy, starless night near the Cleveland harbor. The mariners on board could see the lighthouse, but they needed to find their way through the narrow passage in the treacherous rocks that surrounded the harbor. Normally a light on the shore, aligned with the lighthouse, marked the passage to safety. But on this night, the lower lights had gone out.

Finally, the desperate captain decided they had no choice but to proceed into the harbor without the guidance of the lower lights. “With a strong hand and brave heart”— but in almost total darkness —“the old pilot turned the wheel.” Tragically, he missed the channel, crashed the boat upon the rocks, and lost the lives of his sailors.1

Moody then explained the lesson to be learned from his story: the Master will take care of the great lighthouse, but He depends on us to keep the lower lights burning. Philip Paul Bliss was directing the singing at the meeting that night and was so inspired by Moody’s story that he wrote what would become one of his most popular hymns: Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy. He also composed the music, a hymn tune known as Lower Lights, which was first published in 1871.

The storms of life put many around us in peril. They may long to approach the light of “our Father’s mercy” but are unsure how to navigate the obstacles in their way. We all know how they feel, because each of us has been lost at sea from time to time.

Most often, God uses us to rescue them. If we can keep the light of faith burning in our hearts, if we align our light with the Light above, we can guide an exhausted mariner safely home. We can be the lower lights that “send a gleam across the wave. Some poor fainting, struggling seaman [we] may rescue, [we] may save."2

1 See Ira D. Sankey, Sankey’s Story of the Gospel Hymns (1906), 138–39; see also Karen Lynn Davidson, Our Latter-Day Hymns: The Stories and the Messages (1988), 322–23.
2 “Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy,” Hymns, no. 335.

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