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“Let us Keep the Lower Lights Burning”

Hymn #335 “Brightly Beams our Fathers Mercy,” is a well-known hymn in the church, especially by the priesthood. But many don’t know its origin. When understood, this story takes on a much more profound meaning.

Philip Paul Bliss, a 19th-century American composer was directing the singing for a series of services being conducted by Dwight L. Moody, a well-known preacher. As Reverend Moody closed his message, he told the story of a captain who was attempting to bring his boat to the Cleveland harbor on a very dark and stormy night.

The waves rolled like mountains, Moody stated, and not a star was to be seen in the clouded sky. Moody painted a picture to the congregation of a boat rocking on the violent waves while the ship’s captain peered through the darkness for the sight of a signal light by means which to guide his vessel to safety. When he finally spotted a single light from the lighthouse, the captain turned to the pilot and asked:

“Are you sure this is Cleveland harbor?”

“Quite sure, sir,” the pilot replied.

“Then where are the lower lights?” the captain continued.

“Gone out, sir,” the other man answered.

“Can you make the harbor?” the captain asked anxiously.

“We must, or perish, sir,” the pilot replied.

But despite the captain and pilot’s brave hearts and steady hands, in the darkness, the ship missed the channel. With a resounding crash, the boat piled up on the rocks and then settled slowly to a watery grave.

As the congregation listened intently, Moody concluded with this admonition:

“Brethren, the Master will take care of the great lighthouse; let us keep the lower lights burning.”

That was all Philip Paul Bliss needed to pen one of his most popular hymns, “Let the Lower Lights Be Burning.”

Hymn #335

Hymn #335 on

1. 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.
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman
You may rescue, you may save.

2. Dark the night of sin has settled;
Loud the angry billows roar.
Eager eyes are watching, longing,
For the lights along the shore.

3. Trim your feeble lamp, my brother;
Some poor sailor, tempest-tossed,
Trying now to make the harbor,
In the darkness may be lost.

Text and music: Philip Paul Bliss, 1838 – 1876
Doctrine and Covenants 18:10–16
1 John 2:10

Often the lower lights are simply the lights in the homes along the shore. In the LDS Bible dictionary under temple it states:

“A temple is literally a house of the Lord, a holy sanctuary in which sacred ceremonies and ordinances of the gospel are performed by and for the living and also in behalf of the dead. A place where the Lord may come, it is the most holy of any place of worship on the earth. Only the home can compare with the temple in sacredness.”

We must keep our homes sacred so they may be the lower lights in our lives.

I pray we may always be the lower lights for our brothers and sisters in and out of the Gospel, so that no one may be tossed to the spiritual rocks of life.

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