The Michigan State Prison is located at Jackson, and on both Sunday mornings of Mr. Bliss' stay in the city, he conducted service for the eight hundred inmates there. The most tender, eloquent, and earnest appeal that could possibly been made to sinners to accept the love of Christ was made by him at his last meeting with these dear men, Sunday morning, November 19th. He spoke of their homes, and of the little children, who missed their papas; told them of his own dear little Paul going around the room, and kneeling at the different chairs and praying for his papa and mamma; then turned all their awakened sympathies to Christ, by speaking of how impossible it would be for him to give up his dear little boy to die for others, and to die a death of great suffering, and those for whom he died to be his enemies. "Oh, friends," he said, with tears, "I could not do it, but this is what God did for you. He loved you and gave His Son to die for you." The Spirit of God was upon Mr. Bliss that morning in that prison, and as he spoke and as he sang, the hearts of those hardened men melted like wax. Defiant faces softened, and grew beautiful with earnest, tender, sympathetic feeling. The animal and sensuous expression predominant in many faces passed away, as they looked up on that earnest face, and saw the tears falling as he plead with them of Christ's love, and then sang, as if singing for God alone:
Two-thirds of the men there seemed quite broken down by the reality of the things of God. They will never forget the service of that hour. A strange feeling of the sense of the presence of Jesus Christ came over the writer while Mr. Bliss was talking, and the expression on the faces of the men was softening under his words. It seemed to be an explanation of the words spoken of Christ: "Then drew near unto Him publicans and sinners, for to hear Him." He was filled with sympathy and love, and his dear servant that day was near enough to the Master to reflect His spirit.
Here, as at Kalamazoo, Mrs. Bliss accompanied her husband to nearly every meeting, and sang once or twice with him every evening. His personal interest in the unsaved was made manifest by an incident that occurred in Jackson. Late one evening, at the close of a meeting, he went to the telegraph office in the depot, to send a message. While writing his dispatch, an operator came in, and, without noticing Mr. Bliss, commenced speaking to the two or three railroad men who were in the room, about the meeting. His first words, as laughingly reported by Mr. Bliss to the writer, were: "Well, I've been to church, and if I couldn't preach better than that man, I'd quit the business. The singing, though, was good. I think Bliss knows how to sing and I'll go again, perhaps, to hear him." Stepping up to the counter and taking up Mr. Bliss' dispatch, he at once recognized him, and in a manly way said: "Well, no offense intended. I didn't know you were here; but I don't take back a word, except the swearing. I don't believe a word Whittle said." Without entering into an argument, Mr. Bliss presented the Gospel to him, and urged upon him the one way of salvation. The young man objected very strongly to a statement in the sermon, that no matter how sincere people were in their belief, they were lost if they rejected God's truth. "Well," said Mr. Bliss, "isn't it like this? If a man wants to go to Chicago to-night, and he makes a mistake, and when the Detroit train comes from the west, he takes it and goes east. Thinking very sincerely that he is on his way to Chicago won't help him a bit. He must believe what the conductor tells him, that he is wrong, and face about or he will never reach Chicago." The railroad men chimed in an assent to this illustration. "Just what happened on my train, the other day," said a conductor. "A man was going east, when he wanted to go west, and I had hard work to make him believe he was wrong." It was late and Mr. Bliss was very tired, but for some time he remained speaking to this friend. Nor did he forget the interview. Each day he prayed for this young man, and the very last person he spoke to in Jackson was this operator, urging him to accept Christ and take his stand as His follower.
The stay in Jackson was a very brief one, but blessed of God to many souls. The closing meeting, held in the Methodist Church, Bliss often referred to as one of the best of the year. After the preaching of the Gospel, Mr. Bliss sang, "I have a Savior - he's pleading in glory," with its sweet refrain, "For you I am praying, I'm praying for you," as found, with music by himself, in Gospel Songs. He sang this piece a great deal, and poured out his heart in real prayer as he sang it. During his singing, those present who desired the prayers of God's people were invited to rise, and how happy he would be, as he sang, to see them respond. While singing it one evening, his heart going out for sinners, he added this verse, not found in the song as printed in Gospel Hymns:
That night in Jackson, as he sang, a hundred or more arose, and the Spirit of God was felt in power in the meeting. After his singing, prayer was offered, asking that those impressed might then and there decide and fully accept Christ as their Savior, as presented to them in the word. Mr. Bliss then sang, "Hallelujah, 'Tis Done," and all who would accept and were willing to confess Christ and promise to commence His service were given the opportunity of so doing by arising. Nearly all who had arisen for prayer again arose, and the singer's face fairly shone with joy as he sang:
There's a part in that chorus for you and for me,
And the theme of our praises forever will be:
Hallelujah, 'tis done! I believe on the Son!
I am saved by the blood of the crucified one!
The meeting in Jackson closed November 21st, and Mr. and Mrs. Bliss came to Chicago to attend the Christian Convention called by Mr. Moody. During the session, he made an address upon the use of song in worship, and sang at the prayer meeting of ministers in Farwell Hall, presided over by Mr. Moody, on the morning of November 24th. Over a thousand ministers were present, and the intense spiritual feeling prevailing found fit expression through Bliss in song. After he had sung, "Are Your Windows Open Toward Jerusalem?" his own soul thrilled by the conscious presence of the Holy Spirit, one dear minister cried out, "God bless Mr. Bliss for that song;" and scores of amens came from as many earnest, tender hearts. This was the last time he sang in Chicago. None who were present in Farwell Hall that forenoon will ever forget the power with which he sang. Mr. Moody leaned forward in his chair, occupied with the song and the singer, and overcome by the feeling produced by the music and the sentiment of the hymn. It was the last time he was to hear him this side of the River. When next he hears his voice, it will be in the Heavenly choir.
The lyrics to the
Are Your Windows Open Toward Jerusalem
The foregoing was suggested to Mr. Bliss while attending a Sunday service at the State prison in Joliet, Illinois, where he had gone to sing. Mr. H.G. Spafford, of Chicago, addressed the prisoners, and used Daniel in Babylon as an illustration to them of Gospel truth, and asked the question in closing - "Are your windows open toward Jerusalem?"
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