A Song of the Redeemed: From Tragedy to Triumph

Shiphrah Lakka   |   May 20, 2023 

I love old hymns. I really do. Maybe because they’re tied strongly to my childhood. I remember my mother singing “Blessed Assurance” to put me to sleep at night. There’s just something so comforting and familiar about hymns because they are filled with the truth of God’s Word.

But I didn’t always love them. There was a time in my teenage years when I thought hymns to be quite boring and “uncool” to be honest. The modern choruses with catchy beats seemed more attractive. But hymns have slowly grown on me once again. When my babies were born I found myself singing “How Great Thou Art” and “‘Tis So Sweet” to them at bedtime.

More recently I’ve enjoyed reading up on the history behind some of these great hymns. I even started a weekly #tuesdayhymnstories series on my Instagram page where most Tuesdays I share the history behind a particular hymn. It’s been most encouraging for me and I have been blessed by the stories.

Have you ever wondered where these hymns came from? Many of the deep-meaning lyrics were born out of the difficult challenges and personal tragedies of men and women like us. These men and women lived rich lives. Rich, not in terms of the wealth they had, but in terms of the rich relationship they enjoyed with the Lord Jesus. And that deep relationship outpoured, quite evidently, into the songs they wrote.

When Ira Stanphill wrote the words “Many things about tomorrow, I don’t seem to understand; but I know who holds tomorrow, and I know who holds my hand,” he was a man suffering from deep depression after the loss of his beloved wife.

“Just as I am, though tossed about, with many a conflict, many a doubt; fightings within, and fears without, O Lamb of God, I come!” was written by Charlotte Elliot, a writer, who at the young age of 32, suffered from a serious illness that left her disabled and bedridden for the rest of her life. Her deteriorating health brought about great feelings of despondency. After an encounter with a Swiss evangelist who shared the Good News with her and encouraged her, she turned her literary talents to writing these familiar words.

Horatio Stafford wrote the words, “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, It is well with my soul” mid-Atlantic on his way to join his bereaved wife, as he passed the place where his four beloved daughters had drowned.

And there are countless stories like thisstories about God’s faithfulness and grace in troubled times. Stories of these men and women who did not let the storms of life overcome them, but overcame the storms with their Saviour by their side. I believe knowing the stories, that birthed these songs, helps us appreciate and understand them better.

Today I’m sharing with you the powerful story behind the stirring hymn “I Will Sing of My Redeemer.” I have sung this a million times, never knowing the full story, until recently a friend shared a snippet and I was compelled to dig deeper into it.

Philip Bliss was born to Isaac and Lydia Bliss, on July 9, 1838, in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania. He was the third of five children. His parents were dedicated Christians and one of Bliss’ most beloved childhood memories is of the daily family prayers they had together.

Philip probably got his love for singing from his father who had a passion for music. It is said that when he was 10, he was so taken up when he heard a woman singing and playing the piano for the first time. He actually entered her home, just to listen to her play. She may have shooed the little barefooted boy out of her home that day, but there began a love for music in his heart that lasted his whole life!

Philip left home when he was 11 years old to help earn a living for his family. He spent the next five years working in sawmills and lumber camps. In 1850, in a revival meeting for students, Philip made his profession of faith in Christ. He finished his studies and became a teacher; and in 1858, was appointed a teacher in Rome, Pennsylvania. There he met a beautiful woman named Lucy Young who became his wife. Lucy was a poet and shared and encouraged Philip’s love for music.

Philip was soon credentialed as a professional music teacher and began to compose choruses for children’s ministries. He and his wife moved to Chicago, where he had a life-changing encounter with the well-known evangelist D. L. Moody. Moody so influenced his life, that in 1874, Philip decided to devote his musical gifts completely to the work of the Lord. Philip wrote countless gospel hymns that were sung in evangelistic crusades, drawing many to Christ.

In December of 1876, Philip Bliss and his wife boarded a train to Chicago from Pennsylvania, leaving their two little children, aged 4 and 1, with his mother. They were on their way to join Mr. Moody for one of his gospel crusades. The train was crossing over a trestle bridge spanning over a river near Ashtabula, Ohio, in the middle of a raging snowstorm. Suddenly, the bridge collapsed, sending the train plunging into the 75-foot-deep ravine below. Although Bliss was able to free himself through a window, the passenger compartments caught fire with his wife still trapped inside. He crawled back inside the burning train and faithfully remained by her side trying to free her as the fire took its toll. They both perished in the fire that night. It was later known that out of 160 passengers, only 14 survived.

In Bliss’ luggage trunk (which miraculously stayed intact) were found the words of a new song he had recently composed. No one had seen the words before. His good friend, Mr. James McGranahan added the music to the words and the hymn became a huge success and is a favourite of many even today. The words go like this:

I will sing of my Redeemer, and His wondrous love to me;
On the cruel cross He suffered, from the curse, to set me free.

Sing, O sing of my Redeemer! With His blood He purchased me;
On the cross He sealed my pardon- paid the debt, and made me free.

I will tell the wondrous story, how my lost estate to save,
In His boundless love and mercy, He the ransom freely gave.

I will praise my dear Redeemer, His triumphant power I’ll tell;
How the victory He giveth over sin, and death, and hell.

I will sing of my Redeemer, and His heavenly love to me;
He from death to life hath brought me, Son of God, with Him to be.

The last line being fulfilled in their life, Philip Bliss and his wife Lucy had passed from death to eternal life, to be forever in the presence of their dear Redeemer.

Bliss lived a short life, only 38 years.

That’s how old I am right now – 38.

It got me thinking, if the Lord took me Home today, what is the legacy I will be leaving behind?

Bliss left for the whole world a lasting legacy of his hymns. Timeless truths from God’s Word, of God’s grace and love towards man, in song form that has lasted for over 150 years and sung by people all over the world.

Bliss is no more, but his story lives on. Not because of something he did or the wonderful songs he wrote. But because of the God whom he served with all his heart. Because of the One who redeemed him. The One who proved again that death is not the end.

In Him, we have life eternal.

I hope and pray that the next time we sing this hymn, we would be encouraged to live our lives (for as long as the Lord keeps us on this earth) surrendered fully to our dear Redeemer!

Listen to I Will Sing of My Redeemer here




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Shiphrah Lakka

Shiphrah loves all things chocolate, deep conversations, baking, and getting lost in a good book. She is passionate about encouraging families to learn God's word together. The lockdown has rekindled her love for writing and she documents all that the Lord is teaching her on her blog - boredandbusymama.com. She lives in Thane, India with her husband and two adorable daughters.

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