Lately, the hymn It is Well with My Soul has been on my mind. So, I thought I’d refresh my memory on the story behind it.
This song was written in 1873 by Horatio Spafford (1828-1888), a successful Christian lawyer and businessman from Chicago. In addition to his thriving law practice, Spafford was also heavily invested in real estate along the Lake Michigan shoreline. At one point he wrote to some of his friends that he felt he was “on top of the world” because he had a loving wife, five wonderful children – a son and four daughters – and a successful career. He said these things as acknowledgement of God’s blessing on his life. Then, like Job, his faith was deeply challenged. In 1869, his son died at the age of two. Two years later, his fortunes were lost in the Great Chicago Fire. His family survived but he told his friends that of his financial empire all that remained was his university diploma.
The Spaffords were understandably devastated by the losses, but his wife seemed to be hardest hit by them. So, on a doctor’s advice, Spafford arranged a trip to Europe for the health of his family.
Hymnologist Kenneth Osbeck tells the story: “Desiring a rest for his wife and four daughters as well as wishing to join and assist Moody and [his musician Ira] Sankey in one of their campaigns in Great Britain, Spafford planned a European trip for his family in 1873. In November of that year, due to unexpected last-minute business developments, he had to remain in Chicago, but sent his wife and four daughters on ahead as scheduled on the S.S. Ville du Havre. He expected to follow in a few days.Source: Discipleship Ministries
“On November 22 the ship was struck by the Lochearn, an English vessel, and sank in twelve minutes. Several days later the survivors were finally landed at Cardiff, Wales, and Mrs. Spafford cabled her husband, ‘Saved alone.’”
Spafford immediately took ship to be with his wife. As the ship crossed the Atlantic, it is said that the captain pointed out to Spafford the area where it was believed his children had perished. Shortly thereafter, Spafford is said to have penned the words for the song It is Well with My Soul. The opening verse of this beloved hymn has been sung and affirmed by believers through the decades:
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.
The words reflect a deep spiritual maturity on the part of Horatio Spafford. Despite the heartache he felt, he understood that no matter the trials of life, it would always be well with his soul. Because no matter what befell him, his soul would always be safe in his Heavenly Father’s hands.
And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. (John 10:28)
It is easy for our sorrows to overtake us especially when they seem like sea billows rolling one after another. But no matter what happens – loss of job, loss of fortune, loss of loved ones – God is ever with us. He said: “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5) and He means it.
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