Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | June 11, 2014

The Lower Lights


Listen, in your mind—if you can recall the melody—to the wonderful music of the old hymn, Let the Lower Lights be Burning as you read this devotional.

The words, and the music that accompanied them, are from one of the best-known Christian and gospel music composer in history: Philip Paul Bliss—or as you may have seen it in hymnals, P.P. Bliss. Other music by Bliss includes: Hallelujah, What a Savior; Hold the Fort; Jesus Loves Even Me; The Light of the World Is Jesus; Whosoever Will; Wonderful Words of Life and the all-time favorite invitational hymn: Almost Persuaded, but this is by no means an all-inclusive list. He also wrote the music for the song, It Is Well with My Soul, which he sang at its public introduction only a month before he and his wife were killed in a tragic train wreck in December 1876.

Bliss wrote Let the Lower Lights be Burning—which was published in 1874—after hearing D.L. Moody, the famous evangelist, tell the story of a tragic shipwreck. Moody had told of a passenger ship that was trying to reach the Cleveland, Ohio harbor from Lake Erie in a terrible storm. The ship’s pilot, Moody said, knew that he could only make the harbor safety by keeping the lower shore lights aligned with the main beacon of the lighthouse. As the ship approached the rocky shoreline, the captain of the ship knew that there was trouble and asked the pilot if he was sure that they were headed for the Cleveland harbor. The pilot told the captain that he was sure it was Cleveland, but that the lower lights were out and he was forced to try for the harbor without those guides. In the turbulence and darkness, the pilot missed the channel and the ship was hurled against the rocks and sank. Most of the passengers drowned in the cold, dark waters.

At the end of his sermon, Moody was quoted as saying, “Brethren, the Master will take care of the great lighthouse; let us keep the lower lights burning.” Bliss, who worked with the great evangelist at the time, sang the new song he had written, Let the Lower Lights be Burning at Moody’s next meeting.

The use of light in the Bible begins in Genesis 1:2-3: “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light.’ and there was light.”

 Creation, then, began with God’s command for light to exist and push away the darkness. The idea of light has, in the world’s literature, stood as a metaphor for understanding and opening of the minds. The words, illumination and enlightenment come from the same basic roots.

In the Old Testament, Isaiah’s prophesy of the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, is expressed in terms of light: Isaiah 9:2:

The people walking in darkness

have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of the shadow of death

a light has dawned.

Of course, Chapter 9 continues with the wonderful prophesy of Christ that says in verse 6:

For to us a child is born

to us a son is given.

and the government will be on his shoulders

And he will be called

Wonderful counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

 John begins his gospel, in Chapter 1:4 with this description of Christ: “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” thus equating the Son of God with light and life. Then later, in 8:12, John tells us of Jesus’ words as he spoke to the people in the temple courts. “When Jesus spoke again to the people he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness.’”

In 1 John, the Apostle writes a contrast between light and darkness. Read the contrasts in your Bible. Chapter 1, Verse 5 has two powerful images of light: “…God is light. In Him there is no darkness at all.” Then, Verse 7 says, “But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His son, purifies us all from sin.”

 Jesus, though, didn’t intend that the world at large find His light on its own. In Matthew 5:14, a part of the Beatitudes, he told his disciples that:

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on a stand and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

Jesus told the crowds in the temple, “I am the light of the world…” and then when he left the crowds and took his disciples up into the mountains, he told them, “You are the light of the world.” These statements aren’t contradictory. Jesus was and is the light of the world. It is only through him and by his illumination that his disciples—then and now—become lights to the world around them. When Jesus told the disciples that they were to be lights in the world it was in anticipation of his departure from this world and the need for them to carry on His ministry.

A more modern example of the concept of D.L. Moody’s sermon can be found in many modern settings. Imagine the scene when a friend asks you to come visit for dinner in the evening: You might drive up to the friend’s house and park your car. Looking at the house you would probably see that the lights on the front porch are turned on so that the door to the home is illuminated. Along the pathway that leads to the front steps there may be a number of small—relatively dim—lights to shine on the paving stones so you won’t stumble as you walk.

Those little lamps, so popular these days, are solar powered. They depend on the energy from the sun to charge their batteries so that their light can last through the night. Without sunlight, the little garden lights would not shine and the path would be dark, and maybe hazardous.

The play on the words “sun” and “Son,” is relevant here: without the power and light of the Son of God, Christians could never be what Christ told his disciples to be “lights of the world.” There would be no illumination in the world’s darkness, just as there would be no illumination from solar lamps without the sun.

Remember again now, the story told by the evangelist, D.L. Moody: The pilot of the doomed ship knew that he had to keep the lower shore lights aligned with the beacon on the main lighthouse in order to safely bring the ship into the harbor. If the lower lights have gone out in today’s world, it could be because they have not drawn enough energy from the sun to fulfill their purpose. If the lower lights, themselves, are not aligned with the beam from the lighthouse, they are as unreliable as if they were dark.

Those who most need to have the path ahead of them illuminated are not yet looking up to the “Great Lighthouse” of Christ. They need the lower lights, which draw their glow from The Son to keep burning to show them the way through the treacherous waters of their lives and finally to safety on shore at the foot of the lighthouse. Christians must draw their light from Jesus and stay aligned with Him so that they will provide stable markers leading to safe harbor in His love.








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