“Wonderful Words of Life”


(picture of Philip P. Bliss)


“Lord, to whom shall we go?  Thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6:68)

     INTRO.:  A song which mentions the blessings that we can find in God’s word of life is “Wonderful Words of Life” (#405 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #13 in Sacred Selections for the Church).   The text was written and the tune (Words of Life) was composed both by Philip Paul Bliss, who was born in a log cabin near Rome in Clearfield County, PA, on July 9, 1838.  Always interested in music, while a boy he was carrying items from his family’s home into town to sell and heard a lady playing the piano in a house along the way.  Walking into the house without her knowledge, he asked her to play some more but was ordered to leave.  His family was poor, and at age eleven he left home to work on farms and in lumber camps.  The following year he joined the Baptist Church at Elk Run, PA, and began studying music.  His first instruction was under J. G. Towner.  Also, he attended a music convention conducted by William B. Bradbury.  Then in 1859 he married Lucy J. Young of Rome, PA, and for a year afterward worked on her father’s farm.  Beginning in 1860, with the help of his horse, Old Fanny, a ramshackle buggy, and a $20 melodeon, he rode about rural Pennsylvania as a professional music teacher, conducting singing schools in the winter and continuing his own music education during the summers at the Normal Academy of Music at Geneseo, NY, conducted by Theodore E. Perkins and others.  In 1864, at age 26, he wrote his first song, “Lora Vale,” and sold it to the famous Chicago, IL, publishing firm of Root and Cady.

This song was such a hit that the company induced him to come to the Windy City where he held music conventions and gave concerts.  While associated with Root and Cady for four years, he cared little for popular music.  Wanting to write hymns, his association with two Chicago evangelists caused him to give up his music teaching and to begin composing gospel songs for their crusades.  One of these evangelists was Dwight L. Moody, and the other, for whom Bliss became music director, was Daniel Webster Whittle.  Over the next eight years, Bliss became one of the foremost gospel musicians in the nation.  One night he heard Moody tell the story of a shipwreck and wrote “Let the Lower Lights Be Burning.”  On another occasion he listened to Whittle speak of a battle during the Civil War and wrote “Hold the Fort.”  While on a stopover in an eastern town during a train trip, he attended a church service where the preacher discussed Paul’s interview with Agrippa and as a result wrote “Almost Persuaded” (#348).  Furnishing many songs for various collections of others, he went on to publish several hymnbooks of his own.  Some of his other well-known hymns which have appeared in books published by members of the Lord’s church include “Hallelujah! What A Savior!”, “More Holiness Give Me,” “Whosoever Will,” “Once For All,” Hallelujah, ‘Tis Done,” “Dare to Be a Daniel,” “The Light of the World is Jesus,” and “Jesus Loves Even Me;” tunes for Francis R. Havergal’s “I Gave My Life For Thee” and “I Bring My Sins to Thee,” Emily Oakley’s “What Shall the Harvest Be?”, Mary Brainard’s “He Knows,” and Horatio G. Spafford’s “It Is Well With My Soul;” and the text for “My Redeemer” with music provided by James G. McGranahan.

While at age 25 Bliss had been an impoverished music teacher making only $13 a month, by 36 he was earning a fortune with his royalties being counted in the tens of thousands of dollars, although he gave much of it away to charity.  “Wonderful Words of Life” was produced in 1874 for the first issue of a religious paper named Words of Life, published by Fleming H. Revell in New York City, NY.  Two years later, in 1876, after a grueling fall schedule, Mr. and Mrs. Bliss spent the Christmas holiday with their family in Rome, PA.  Leaving the children with relatives in Rome, they left for Chicago and an engagement at Moody’s tabernacle.  On Dec. 29, while they were riding their Chicago-bound express through Ohio, the bridge over a ravine near Ashtabula gave way, and seven cars crashed through the trestle.  They plunged into the icy riverbed below and burst into flame.  Bliss, just 38 years old at the time, survived the fall, escaped through a window, and crawled from the wreckage.  However, when he did not see his wife, he fought his way back through the fire into the burning mass in a vain effort to locate and rescue her.  Both of them perished in the flames, along with a hundred other people.    This song had its first hymnbook appearance in the 1878 Gospel Hymns No. 3, edited by Ira David Sankey.

Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, the song has appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 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 1959 Majestic Hymnal No. 2 and the 1978 Hymns of Praise both edited by Reuel Lemmons; the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 edited by Tillit S. Teddlie; 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; the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat; the 2009 Favorite Songs of the Church and the 2010 Songs for Worship and Praise both edited by Robert J. Taylor Jr.; and the 2012 Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs edited by Steve Wolfgang et. al.; in addition to Hymns for Worship and Sacred Selections.

The song emphasizes the importance of God’s words of life and why they is so wonderful.

I. According to stanza 1, they teach faith and duty

Sing them over again to me,

Wonderful words of life,

Let me more of their beauty see,

Wonderful words of life;

Words of life and beauty

Teach me faith and duty.

  1. We need to hear God’s words over and over again: 2 Pet. 3:1-2
  2. When we do, their beauty will be seen in that they are sweeter than honey: Ps. 119:103
  3. And their value is that they teach us faith and duty: Tit. 2:11-12

II. According to stanza 2, they woo us to heaven

Christ, the blessèd One, gives to all

Wonderful words of life;

Sinner, list to the loving call,

Wonderful words of life;

All so freely given,

Wooing us to heaven.

  1. Christ is the one who gives us these wonderful words: Jn. 6:63
  2. Therefore, we need to listen to His loving call: 2 Thess. 2:13-14
  3. If we follow them, they will woo us to heaven: Col. 1:5

III. According to stanza 3, they present Jesus as Savior

Sweetly echo the Gospel call,

Wonderful words of life;

Offer pardon and peace to all,

Wonderful words of life;

Jesus, only Savior,

Sanctify forever.

  1. The gospel is God’s power unto salvation: Rom. 1:16
  2. The gospel offers pardon and peace through forgiveness of sins: Acts 13:38-39
  3. But we must respond to the gospel in obedience because Jesus is the only Savior: Heb. 5:8-9

CONCL.:  The refrain continues the note of praise for the word of God:

Beautiful words,

Wonderful words,

Wonderful words of life,

Beautiful words,

Wonderful words,

Wonderful words of life.

Note Matt. 4:4.  We can have guidance through life, the hope of heaven, and salvation in Christ only by believing and obeying the “Wonderful Words of Life.”


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