By Dennis Abernathy
The night of December 29, 1876, marks one of the most tragic wrecks in the history of American railroading. On that bitter cold night a west bound express train crashed through a trestle over a swollen stream near Ashtabula, Ohio, caught fire, and carried a hundred passengers to a burning death. On board the ill-fated Chicago-bound train was Philip Bliss, beloved and famous gospel song composer and singer.
Born in rural Pennsylvania, Philip Bliss was reared in abject poverty. In his teens he worked at a country sawmill for ten dollars a month and attended a singing school conducted by William Bradbury, who greatly encouraged young Bliss.
In his early twenties he married, bought a ramshackle buggy and a horse he named “Fanny,” and went about the countryside with his wife, teaching music. His average income was thirteen dollars a month.
At twenty-six, Bliss wrote a secular song he called “Lora Vale.” Having learned his first notes on a homemade flute whittled from a cane, he sent his song to a Chicago firm by the name of Root and Cady, music publishers, with the request that if his composition were acceptable, he would appreciate a real flute in exchange. Reading the manuscript, George Frederick Root sent Bliss the finest flute that he could find, along with a note that a job with the firm of Root and Cady was waiting for him if he wanted to come to Chicago.
At thirty-two, Philip Bliss was director of music at Chicago’s First Congregational Church, editor of hymnals for Root and Cady, and composed both words and music for his gospel songs.
Bliss was ever alert for themes. One Sunday night, while waiting for a train in Ohio, Bliss slipped into a church and took a rear seat. The minister, a Mr. Brundage, was reading from the Acts of the Apostles: “Then Agrippa said unto Paul, ‘Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.”‘ During his sermon Mr. Brundage said, “To be almost saved is to be entirely lost.” And Philip Bliss had the theme for one of his famous gospel songs.
After spending Christmas with his mother in Pennsylvania, Bliss and his wife were returning to Chicago when their train plunged through the trestle. Bliss tore his way from the burning cars. Unable to find his wife, he fought his way back through the flames. In a vain effort to save her, he died at her side. His trunk was salvaged and in it was found an unfinished hymn. It began: “I know not what awaits me, God kindly veils my eyes.
Let us now turn our attention to the hymn Philip Bliss wrote after hearing a sermon while waiting for a train.
The almost persuaded are looking for a convenient season (Read Acts 26:24-29).
“Almost persuaded, now to believe;
Almost persuaded, Christ to receive;
Seems now some soul to say,
Go, Spirit, go thy way;
Some more convenient day,
On Thee I’ll call.”
1. Agrippa was almost persuaded to believe. The word “believe” is used here in the sense of a synecdoche. That is, a part standing for the whole. Hence, the word believe here encompasses all the steps of salvation. A good example of this is Acts 2:44. “And all that believed were together, and had all things common.” The believers were those who heeded the apostle Peter’s command to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. They were those who were added by Christ to the church (see Acts 2:38,41,47). (See also Acts 4:4; 5:14; 8:12,13; 16:30-34).
2. Agrippa was almost persuaded to receive Christ (Jn. 1:11-13). How does one receive Christ? According to John 1:12, one must believe on his name. How does one believe? James 1:21 says: “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your soul.” So, one must receive the word! “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Acts 2:41 says: “They therefore that gladly received his word, were baptized, and there were added unto them in that day,. about three thousand souls.” Thus, when one receives the Word in obedience he receives Christ. How sad to hear many say: “Just receive Christ into your heart” and then never hear them say what is involved in taking that important action.
3. 1 think the song writer was right when he wrote, “seems now some soul to say, go, Spirit, go thy way, some more convenient day, on Thee I’ll call.” There are a lot of people who are almost ready to obey the gospel, then someone discourages them. Maybe it is the Devil saying: “You have plenty of time, don’t get in such a hurry.” And so the lost soul tells the Holy Spirit to go away. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts men of sin, righteousness, and the judgment to come. This is accomplished through the preaching of the gospel. Remember, the sword of the spirit is the Word of God (see Jn. 16:7-8; Eph. 6:17). We have the example of a man by the name of Felix, who told the Spirit to go away, when he said to Paul: “Go thy way for now, and when I have a more convenient season, I will call on thee” (Acts 24:25).
I’m afraid this is true of many today. They are looking for “convenient” religion. “I’ll study the Bible, work for the Lord, and attend the church services, etc., when it is convenient!” How sad!
The time to become a Christian is now! The time to set your life right is now!
“Almost persuaded, come, come today;
Almost persuaded, turn not away;
Jesus invites you here,
Angels are lingering near,
Prayers rise from hearts so dear,
O wanderer, come.”
1. The biblical emphasis on obedience has always been now! “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth” (Eccl. 12:1). “Now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). “Today, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart as in the day of provocation” (Heb. 3:15).
2. All of the examples of conversion in the book of Acts indicate that the day the people found out they were lost and understood the truth was the day they obeyed the gospel. Consider the Philippian jailor, for example. The text says: “And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway” (Acts 16:33). (See also Acts 2:37,38,41; 8:35-39.)
3. The message and plea of the song is “turn not away.
As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways, for why will ye die? (Ezek. 33:11)
The word of God pleads with men to turn to God. “Repent ye therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19).
Jesus does invite you to come to him (Matt. 11:28-30; Jn. 6:37). Jesus’ message to the lost today is: “all things are ready, come to the feast” (Lk. 14:17).
Dear friend, Jesus loves your soul. He cares about your redemption.
“Angels are lingering near.” They care too. There is joy among the angels of heaven over one sinner that repenteth (Lk. 15:7).
“Prayers do indeed rise from hearts so dear.” Your relatives and friends and even Christians who do not even know you, pray for your soul’s redemption. May we never discount the power of prayer because nothing lies beyond the reach of prayer, except that which lies beyond the will of God. Truly, “the effectual fervent prayer of the righteous avails much” (Jas. 5:16).
Christ, the angels, and Christians who love you dearly, want you, if you have wandered into the wilderness of sin, to come home. Isaiah 53:6 says that all we like sheep have gone astray. The gospel (the good news) of Christ, like Jesus before Lazarus’ grave, cries out, “Sinner come forth!” The good news is that God will grant full sonship to all those who will come out of the far country of sin. So, there is hope for all prodigals. But you must take advantage of the opportunity that presents itself now! (Gal. 6:1; Jas. 5:19-20)
The time will come when it will be too late to be born again.
“Almost persuaded, harvest is past.
Almost persuaded, doom comes at last!
Almost cannot avail;
Almost is but to fail.
Sad, sad, that bitter wail Almost – but lost!”
1, The harvest time will pass. Jeremiah said: “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved” (Jer. 8:20). If there is one thing we can be certain of, it is the fact that doom comes at last to the unsaved.
2. Procrastination is so deceptive. It is the thief of time. It is the grave in which opportunity is buried. We are all guilty to some extent. If one waits too long to go to the doctor, he may die. You can wait too long and miss your plane or train. You can remain in sin until you are past feeling or until you lose all sensitivity.
So, I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more (Eph. 4:17-19). Your conscience will cease to bother you, becoming seared as with a hot iron (1 Tim. 4:2). So, in view of these grave warnings, “Be very careful then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity” (Eph. 5:15).
3. Almost a Christian doesn’t count. Almost a faithful Christian doesn’t count. We often say, “Almost, or close, only counts in horseshoes.” I have preached several funerals of people who “leaned toward the church of Christ.” What a meaningless expression! I remember Jesus telling a teacher of the law that he was not far from the kingdom. But, friend, please remember: Almost is but to fail, and near, or “not far” from the kingdom, is not there! Many give thought to becoming a Christian. They talk about being born again. Many erring brethren think and talk about coming back to the Lord. Listen! That simply is not good enough. You must do it! James said: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (Jas. 1:22). Jesus’ mother Mary said: “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it!” (Jn. 2:5) Amen!
4. Waiting too long will bring sadness, bitterness and weeping. Don’t allow the trivial things of life to cause you to miss salvation. Don’t let salvation’s opportunity pass you by.
Many of us have heard opportunity knocking at our door, But by the time we unhooked the chain, pushed back the bolt, turned two locks, and shut off the burglar alarm – it was gone!
“How shall we escape if we neglect (ignore) such a great salvation” (Heb. 2:3). The sad truth is, dear reader, we won’t escape!
“There’s a line that is drawn by rejecting our Lord,
While the call of His Spirit is lost,
And you hurry along with the pleasure-mad throng.
Have you counted, have you counted the cost?
You may barter your hope of eternity’s morn,
For a moment of joy at the most,
For the glitter of sin and the things it will win
Have you counted, Have you counted the cost?
While the door of his mercy is open to you,
Ere the depth of His love you exhaust,
Won’t you come and be healed, won’t you whisper, I yield
I have counted, I have counted the cost.
Have you counted the cost, if your soul should be lost?
Tho’ you gain the whole world for your own?
Even now it may be that the line you have crossed,
Have you counted, have you counted the cost?
How sad it will be to be “almost persuaded,” and in the end be lost! How sad it will be “to be near the kingdom of God,” but in the end hear the Lord say, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” Almost persuaded is not enough. Why not become fully persuaded of your need to obey the Lord of Glory. If you need help in understanding what to do, seek for it. Don’t miss heaven! (See Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; 8:37; 22:16 Rom. 10:9-10; 1 Pet. 3:21).
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 6, pp. 170-172
March 19, 1992