Let the Lower Lights be Burning

Lighthouse at Cozumel, Mexico. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Lighthouse at Cozumel, Mexico. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

One of the great gospel songs that I remember from my childhood is Let the Lower Lights Be Burning (or Brightly Beams our Father’s Mercy). I understood the song even before I saw a lighthouse.

The song was written by a talented young musician names Philip P. Bliss in 1871. Osbeck tells the story of the writing of the hymn. Bliss was traveling with Dwight L. Moody and was impressed by an illustration about a violent storm on Lake Erie that was often used by Moody.

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 light from the lighthouse.
“Quite sure, sir,” replied the pilot.
“Where are the lower lights?”
“Gone out, sir!”
“Can you make the harbor?”
“We must, or perish, sir.”

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 slivered and many a life lost in a watery grave.

“Brethren,” concluded Mr. Moody, “the Master will take care of the great lighthouse. Let us keep the lower lights burning.”

Osbeck, K. W. (1985). 101 more hymn stories (175). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications.

Here are the words of the hymn.

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 wave!
For to us He gives the keeping of the lights along the shore.
[or Some poor struggling, sinking sailor 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.
Let the lower lights be burning! Send a gleam across the wave!
Eager eyes are watching, longing, for the lights, along the shore.

Trim your feeble lamp, my brother, some poor sailor tempest tossed,
Trying now to make the harbor, in the darkness may be lost.
Let the lower lights be burning! Send a gleam across the wave!
Trying now to make the harbor, some poor sailor may be lost.

I located the lyrics to this old hymn at hymnlyrics.org.

The next photo is of the lighthouse at the Crusader city of Akko on the Mediterranean. Akko (Acre) was known as Ptolemais in New Testament times. The Apostle Paul stopped at the city on the return from his third preaching journey (Acts 21:7).

The Akko Crusader lighthouse. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Akko Crusader City lighthouse. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Utilizing the power of some of the photo tools I use, I thought about what this lighthouse might look like if the lights did not burn at night. Add a heavy fog and it would be impossible for the captain (pilot) of the ship to see it, let alone the “lights along the shore.”

Akko Crusader lighthouse as it might appear at night. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Akko Crusader City lighthouse as it might appear at night. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Two great New Testament texts come to mind:

“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Jesus; Matthew 5:16 NAU)

… so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, (Apostle Paul; Philippians 2:15 NAU)

Thinking that some readers might like to use this illustration in a lesson, I have provided hi-res images. Just click on the images above.

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