“LET THE LOWER LIGHTS BE BURNING”
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works…” (Matt. 5.16)
INTRO.: A hymn which encourages us to let our lights shine before me is “Let The Lower Lights Be Burning” (#237 in Hymns for Worship Revised and #527 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written and the tune (Lower Lights) was composed both by Philip Paul Bliss (1838-1876). A native of Clearfield County, PA, he left home to work on farms and in lumber camps, but later became a music teacher and professional songwriter. Eventually, he joined the evangelistic team of Daniel W. Whittle and Dwight L. Moody, headquartered in Chicago, IL, as a music director for their crusades. Many of his songs were drawn from illustrations that he heard in sermons. This song was suggested by a story which Moody told.
“On a dark, stormy night, when the waves rolled like mountains and not a star was to be seen, a boat rocking and plunging, neared the Cleveland harbor. ‘Are you sure this is Cleveland?’ asked the captain, seeing only one light from the light-house. ‘Quite sure, sir,’ replied the pilot. ‘Where are the lower lights?’ ‘Gone out, sir.’ ‘Can you make the harbor?’ ‘We must, or perish, sir!’ And with a strong hand and a brave heart, the old pilot turned the wheel. But alas, in the darkness he missed the channel, and with a crash upon the rocks the boat was shivered, and many a life lost in a watery grave. Brethren, the Master will take care of the great light-house; let us keep the lower lights burning!” The song was first published in The Charm, a Collection of Sunday School Music, which Bliss compiled in 1871 for John Church and Co. of Cincinnati, OH. Bliss and his wife died in a fiery train-wreck near Ashtabula, OH, while returning to Chicago from Pennsylvania where they had been to visit family for the holidays.
This hymn has been well-known and much used by our brethren. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ it appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 both edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1), the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2, and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 all edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; and the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. Today, it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.
The song talks about the importance of letting our lights shine to help others.
I. According to the first stanza, God’s mercy is the great light to guide us
“Brightly beams our Father’s mercy From the lighthouse evermore;
But to us He gives the keeping Of the lights along the shore.”
A. It is by the mercy of God that we are saved: Eph. 2.4-8, Tit. 3.5
B. This mercy is pictured as light pouring from a lighthouse, because God is light and we must walk in His light to find salvation and heaven: 1 Jn. 1.5-7
C. But God gives His people the responsibility of reflecting His light so that they can be like the “lower lights” to help people find the right way: Phil. 2.12-16
II. According to the second stanza, sin is the great darkness that requires our lights
“Dark the night of sin has settled, Loud the angry billows roar;
Eager eyes are watching, longing, For the lights along the shore.”
A. Throughout the Bible, sin is pictured as darkness and night: Eph. 5.11, 1 Thess. 5.5
B. And as it is with ships sailing along the shore during a storm, the angry billows could represent anything, such as the lusts of the flesh, the doctrines of men, and the desires of this life, which would toss souls to and fro and drown them in destruction and perdition: Eph. 4.14, 1 Tim. 6.9
C. And there may well be souls who are looking for lights to help them cast their anchors both sure and steadfast so that they can find refuge from the storm: Heb. 6.18-20
III. According to the third stanza, being such lights is the great responsibility that we have
“Trim your feeble lamp, my brother; Some poor seaman, tempest tossed,
Trying now to make the harbor, In the darkness may be lost.”
A. Trimming a lamp is part of the process of making it ready to do its work, and would represent preparing our lives so that we can be ready for service to the Master, as the wise virgins did: Matt. 25.1-13
B. “Some poor seaman tempest tossed” would refer to all those whose lives are being buffeted by the waves of lust, temptation, and sin while sailing in the darkness of this world: Rom. 3.23, Jas. 1.13-15
C. And if there is not some light there to help guide them to the harbor of safety, they will be lost–forever: Rom. 6.23, Rev. 21.8
CONCL.: The chorus reemphasizes the need for us to keep our lamps ready and burning.
“Let the lower lights be burning! Send a gleam across the wave!
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman, You may rescue, you may save.”
Of course, we realize that the only true spiritual light comes from God’s word (Ps. 119.105). But the way that we shine that light for others is to make sure that our lives are good examples of the teaching of God’s word (1 Tim. 4.12), and to look for opportunities to teach that word to others (2 Tim. 2.2). Therefore, each child of God must recognize his own personal responsibility to “Let The Lower Lights Be Burning.”