You may have at some point, heard the old hymn, ”It is Well With My Soul.” I have heard it many times at funerals. What you might not know is the story behind the man who wrote the lyrics and why he wrote them.
The hymn was written by a Chicago lawyer, Horatio G. Spafford a successful Chicago lawyer. He did not write the words ‘It is well with my soul’ because of his great success. They came as a reflection at a time of great personal tragedy from a man whose commitment to the Lord was like that of Job’s.
Horatio G. Spafford was a prominent American lawyer from the Chicago area in the mid 1800’s. He and his wife Anna were committed supporters and close friends of D.L. Moody, the famous preacher. In 1870, hardships attacked their life. The Spafford’s’ only son was killed by scarlet fever at the age of four. A year later, fire ravaged real estate holdings along the shores of Lake Michigan that Horatio had heavily invested in. In 1871, every one of these holdings was destroyed by the great Chicago Fire.
Needing a sabbatical from the stress that these disasters had taken on the family, Horatio decided to take his wife and four daughters on a holiday to England. It would be a combination of rest and helping DL Moody as he traveled around Britain on one of his great evangelistic campaigns. Horatio and Anna planned to join Moody in late 1873. And so, the Spaffords traveled to New York in November to catch the French steamer ‘Ville de Havre’ across the Atlantic. Just before they set sail, a last-minute business development caused Horatio to delay. Instead of letting this ruin the family holiday, Horatio persuaded his family to go as planned. He would follow later. Anna and her four daughters sailed East to Europe while Spafford returned West to Chicago. Nine days later, Spafford received a telegram from his wife in Wales. It read: “Saved alone.”
On November 2nd 1873, the ‘Ville de Havre’ had collided with ‘The Lochearn’, an English vessel. It sank in only 12 minutes, claiming the lives of 226 people. Anna Spafford had stood bravely on the deck, with her daughters Annie, Maggie, Bessie and Tanetta clinging desperately to her. Her last memory had been of her baby being torn violently from her arms by the force of the waters. Anna was only saved from the fate of her daughters by a plank which floated beneath her unconscious body and propped her up. When the survivors of the wreck had been rescued, Mrs. Spafford’s first reaction was one of complete despair. Then she heard a voice speak to her, “You were spared for a purpose.” And she immediately recalled the words of a friend, “It’s easy to be grateful and good when you have so much, but take care that you are not a fair-weather friend to God.”
Upon hearing the terrible news, Horatio Spafford boarded the next ship out of New York to join his bereaved wife. Bertha Spafford (the fifth daughter of Horatio and Anna born later) explained that during her father’s voyage, the captain of the ship had called him to the bridge. “A careful reckoning has been made”, he said, “and I believe we are now passing the place where the de Havre was wrecked. The water is three miles deep.” Horatio then returned to his cabin and penned the lyrics of his great hymn.
The words which Spafford wrote that day come from 2 Kings 4:26. They echo the response of the Shunammite woman to the sudden death of her only child. Though we are told “her soul is vexed within her“, she still maintains that “It is well.” And Spafford’s song reveals a man whose trust in the Lord is as unwavering as hers was.
None of us truly know how we would react or respond in such overwhelming circumstances. Spaffords knew God was not their source of trouble. They knew Jesus was their hope in trouble and received His grace to be able to respond so wonderously! We can also know that this same grace is available to us so that no matter what circumstances shadow our life, we may we be able to say with Horatio Spafford…
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 hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul!
It is well … with my soul!
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
2 Kings 4:26 (KJV) “Run now, I pray thee, to meet her, and say unto her, Is it well with thee? is it well with thy husband? is it well with the child? And she answered, IT IS WELL.”
In His Love,
Pastor Tim Burt
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Published by Pastor Tim Burt
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