Thursday, April 14, 2016

Let the Lower Lights Be Burning

My uncle, Byron Personeus, spent more than forty years as the captain of a gospel mission boat among the islands of Southeast Alaska and around Vancouver Island, British Columbia. One of his favorite songs was "Let the Lower Lights Be Burning," by Philip P. Bliss, a gifted American composer and gospel songwriter of the late 19th Century.

My uncle and aunt (couple on left) in Ketchikan, Alaska, in 1948 standing next to their first mission boat 
Lower lights are the tiny lights along the shore that mark the safe channels. Without them, ships could easily smash on the rocks or get stuck on sandbars, and lives are lost. Before reefs and rocks in Alaskan waters were marked by lights, many terrible tragedies occurred.*

Whenever my uncle took his mission boat into a town, village, or cannery, he would play a recording of that song over his boat's public address system. Everyone would hear it and know that he would be holding a church service that night.

The story behind the song is this: In one of his meetings, Evangelist Dwight L. Moody used as his sermon illustration the story of a terrible shipwreck.

The night was dark and stormy. The ship was bucking and plunging as it approached the harbor of Cleveland with a pilot on board. The captain noticed only one light--the light from the lighthouse--as they drew near. The lower lights needed to line up correctly with the channel to take them into the harbor was dark.

Cleveland Hill Lighthouse, built in 1859
"Where are the lower lights?" the captain asked.

"Gone out, sir," the pilot said.

"Can you make the harbor, then?" asked the captain.

"We must, sir, or we'll perish," the pilot answered.

The pilot steered his course toward what he thought was safety, but in the stormy darkness he missed the channel. The ship struck the rocks, and many lives were lost.

"Brothers, the Master will take care of the great lighthouse!" Moody proclaimed. "We are the lower lights. Let us keep the lower lights burning!"

In the audience that night was Philip P. Bliss. The story inspired him to write the well-known hymn, Let the Lower Lights Be Burning:

Philip P. Bliss
Brightly beams our Father's mercy
From His lighthouse evermore,
But to us He gives the keeping
Of the light along the shore.

Let the lower lights be burning!
Send a beam across the waves!
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman
You may rescue, you may save.

Dark the night of sin has settled,
Loud the angry billows roar;
Eager eyes are watching, longing
For the lights along the shore.

Trim your feeble lamps, my brother;
Some poor sailor tempest tossed,
Trying now to make the harbor,
In the darkness may be lost.

Maybe in this modern age we don't relate as well to sailing ships. But think about finding your way on a dark pathway to your front door at night with no street lights when your porch light is out and you have no flashlight. Some homes use solar lights to mark their walkways. We might call those "lower lights."

Jesus is the Light of the world, the great Lighthouse, but He wants us to reflect His light to the sin-tossed people we come in contact with every day. He warns us not to hide our lights or someone may be lost for eternity.

What can you do today to be a lower light?

*All of my books feature a gospel missions boat ministry. My present work-in-process, Beside Still Waters, features one of the most tragic shipwrecks in Alaskan waters that occurred because no light marked a treacherous reef in Lynn Canal. For more about my books, go to

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