By Hymn Stories
"I will sing unto the LORD as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the LORD." - Psalm 104:33-34 KJV
Many of our finest gospel hymns have been born out of some tragic experience or event. "My Redeemer," though expressing a joyful note of praise, was found in the wreckage of a train accident which had just claimed the life of its author, P. P. Bliss, a noted contributor to early gospel music.
At the age of thirty-eight and at the very height of his fruitful musical ministry, Philip Paul Bliss's life ended suddenly in tragedy.
During the Christmas season of 1876, Bliss and his wife had visited his mother at his childhood home in Rome, Pennsylvania. As they were returning by train to Chicago to assist in an evangelistic crusade, a railroad bridge near Ashtabula, Ohio, collapsed. Their train plunged into a ravine sixty-feet below and caught fire. One hundred passengers perished miserably.
Bliss somehow survived the fall and escaped through a window. However, as he frantically searched through the wreckage in an attempt to rescue his wife, he too perished with her in the fire. Neither body was ever recovered. Quite miraculously, however, among Bliss's belongings in the train wreckage was a manuscript on which he evidently had been working. The hymn text just finished was "My Redeemer."
The shocking report of Bliss's fatal accident made a profound impact on evangelical Christians everywhere. Upon hearing the news, two of Bliss's personal friends, composer James McGranahan and evangelist Major Daniel Whittle, left separately for the site of the accident, each hoping to find some trace of the body of their mutually esteemed friend. As he moved about in the large crowd, McGranahan recognized the major, though they had never met. The major, too, had heard previous accounts from Bliss about the talented James McGranahan and how this man should be in full-time Christian service. The major challenged McGranahan "to continue the work that our dear friend Philip has begun." McGranahan took the manuscript of Bliss's new hymn text that Major Whittle had found in a trunk and promised to prayerfully consider this challenge.
At their first public rally together following the accident, the hymn "My Redeemer" was introduced. The large Chicago audience was told that Major Whittle had found the text among Bliss's belongings and that James McGranahan had just recently composed the music for Philip P. Bliss's final words: "He from death to life hath brought me, Son of God, with Him to be." One can imagine the emotion that accompanied the singing at that service.
Renew your resolve to live each remaining day by singing praise to God, meditating on Him, and being glad in the Lord.