This famous hymn was written by a Chicago lawyer,
Horatio G. Spafford after several traumatic events in his life.
You might think to write a worship song titled,
‘It is well with my soul’, you would indeed have to be a rich, successful Chicago lawyer. But the words,
“When sorrows like sea billows roll … It is well with my soul”, were not written during the happiest period of Spafford’s life.
On the contrary, they came from a man who had suffered almost unimaginable personal tragedy.
Horatio G. Spafford was a wealthy Chicago lawyer with a thriving legal practice, a beautiful home, a wife, four daughters and a son. He was also a devout Christian and faithful student of the Scriptures.
The Spaffords were also prominent supporters and close
friends of D.L. Moody, the famous evangelist and publisher. In 1870, however, things started to go wrong. The Spaffords’ only son was killed by scarlet fever at the age of four.
A year later, it was fire rather than fever that struck. Horatio had invested heavily in real estate on the shores of Lake Michigan. In 1871, every one of these holdings was
wiped out by the great Chicago Fire.
Aware of the toll that these disasters had taken on the family, Horatio decided to take his wife and four
daughters on a holiday to England. And, not only did they need the rest – DL Moody needed the help.
Moody was traveling 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, from where they were to catch the French
steamer ‘Ville de Havre’ across the Atlantic.
Yet just before they set sail, a last-minute business development
forced Horatio to delay. Not wanting to ruin the family holiday, Spafford persuaded his family to go ahead as planned.
He would follow on later.
With this decided, Anna and her four daughters sailed East to Europe while Spafford
returned West to Chicago. Just nine days later, Spafford received a telegram from his wife in Wales. It read:
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. “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.
It is well with my soul.
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Is it well with your soul today?
As you are ‘passing hard moments’ of the day
can you stop along the way
to ask yourself this question…
Is it well?
“It is well with my soul,” therefore, does not mean I feel all right about things. It is a mistake for Christians to view contentment as not feeling grief or sorrow or pain as a result of the shipwrecks of life. Being a Christian does not mean life will be easy and absent of calamity. So in short, “it is well with my soul” does not mean I have a feeling of tranquility with the disastrous events of my life. What it does mean is that I recognize that my soul is in want of nothing; at the deepest level I have been fully provided for. I have a peace that is undeniable yet unexplainable. “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.”When you are “passing the place”and the waters are “3 miles deep”can you say, “It is well with my soul?”
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”Romans 8:18