Behind The Hymn: It Is Well With My Soul

Horatio Gates Spafford (1828-1888) was a well known and successful lawyer in Chicago. He was an elder in his church and close friends with famous evangelist Dwight L. Moody. Spafford married his wife, Anna, in 1861 and together raised four daughters. Tragedy struck in the year 1871 with the Great Chicago Fire. Spafford, who had invested heavily in real estate, saw almost all his investments turn to ashes. The Spafford’s spent the better part of the next two years serving those who had lost everything in the fire.

In November of 1873, The Spafford family planned to take a trip with friends to Europe for a much needed vacation. At the last minute, an unforeseen business development forced Horatio to stay behind. He insisted his family go on ahead of him, planning to take another boat just a few days later to meet them. Anna and their four daughters boarded the S.S. Ville du Havre and set sail for Europe. On November 22nd, the Ville du Havre collided with the Lochearn, and English ship, and sank. While searching for survivors, Anna was found unconscious, floating on a piece of debris. She was alone. The Spafford’s had lost their four daughters. Of the hundreds on board, only twenty-seven survived. One of the ship’s survivors later recalled Anna saying, “God gave me four daughters. Now they have been taken from me. Someday I will understand why.” Upon arriving in England, Anna was able to send Horatio a telegram that simply, and painfully, read:

“Saved alone.”

Horatio immediately left for England to bring his wife home. While on the journey, over the very waters that had swallowed up his four daughters just days before, Horatio Spafford wrote these words:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
A song in the night, oh my soul!

These words have since become one of the most popular and beloved Christian hymns. However, the beauty of this song is not found in the words alone, but in the faith behind them. Horatio Spafford was well aware that the only real peace in his life was purchased by Christ and the only real comfort was knowing Him. Even in the loss of his daughters, a pain that I cannot even begin to imagine, Spafford found comfort knowing they were with the Lord. Soon after the tragedy, he wrote to his wife’s half-sister, Rachel, and said:

“On Thursday last we passed over the spot where she went down, in mid-ocean, the waters three miles deep. But I do not think of our dear ones there. They are safe, folded, the dear lambs.”

In the face of unimaginable pain and suffering, we too can find this peace and comfort in Christ. When the night is darkest, it can be well with our souls. Know that Jesus shed His blood for you, that He bore your sins on the cross, and when the trumpet sounds, He will return for us. This is the rock that the wise man builds his house on. So when the storms come, and they will come, we can say…

Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul!

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