Sunday, February 3, 2019

Walking by faith, or sight?

It happened on a frigid winter night, 142 years ago . Phil and Lucy Bliss and their two sons, ages one and three, had celebrated Christmas at his parent's home in the tiny farm town of Rome, PA. Then Phil was called back to Chicago on business, so they left the boys with their grandparents for an extended holiday. After arriving in Buffalo on Friday, Dec. 29, Phil and Lucy boarded the Chicago-bound Pacific Express at 2 p.m. It left Buffalo an hour late, and could only go 15 miles per hour because of a blinding snowstorm. As evening approached, the engine headlight threw a short dim flash into the darkening blizzard. Finally, at 7:45 p.m. the crowded train approached Ashtabula, Ohio. To reach the station, it had to cross a 200-foot-long wooden trestle over a ravine.  The train slowed to ten miles per hour as it crept across the bridge in the snowy darkness. According to one passenger, "Only the engine had passed over when the bridge collapsed. I heard a cracking sound in the front part of our carriage. Then another in the back; then a sickening sudden sinking. I was thrown from my seat, hearing splintering and smashing all around me. The train fell 70 feet into the icy riverbed below. Within minutes, broken stoves and lamps set each car on fire. Men who were strong enough escaped through windows into waist-deep icy water, and then tried to rescue their wives."

Fortunately, Phil Bliss was able to escape out a window into the icy water, but his wife Lucy was trapped inside by the tangled metal of broken seats. As flames engulfed the car, Phil saw she could not escape, so he climbed back inside to hold her in his arms. Their remains were never found.  

So who was Phillip Bliss?  He was one of the most famous Christian song writers in history! For 12 years, he wrote hymns which cheered hearts around the world and are still sung today. Maybe you remember "Let the Lower Lights be Burning" or "Dare to be a Daniel" or "Almost Persuaded." As America mourned his death, memorial services were held from coast to coast. At a service in Chicago, the church was filled with 8,000 mourners. Four-thousand more were turned away, but refused to leave, standing outside the church in silent respect.

Before boarding the Pacific Express, Phil had sent his luggage ahead. It arrived in Chicago on another train the next day. When friends opened his suitcase, they found a draft copy of the last hymn he wrote. It begins, "I know not what awaits me, God kindly veils my eyes -- So on I go, not knowing. I would not if I might. I'd rather walk by faith with God, than walk alone by sight."

1 comment:

  1. What a sorry tragic story this was! There is no hint in this account as to why the bridge collapsed. Snow does not weaken a bridge. There was apparently no crash with any other train involved. The train was pulling passenger cars, - not an especially heavy load. The train was going slowly – so no unusual dynamic forces. No obvious cause for the collapse. Two possibilities not mentioned in this story: First, was the bridge known to be in poor shape and was possibly not certified as safe for use. But then, why put the lives of all these people in such peril for a known risk? The other possibility is sabotage. Was there any reason known why someone would want to do harm to the railway, or to any particular passenger on that particular train?