Horatio Spafford was a wealthy business owner from Chicago in the 1800s. This was not what he trusted in. He was married to Anna and they had five children at the time. This was also not where his hope lay. Horatio was a believer and this shaped the purpose and course of his life. The following is the story of an unwavering trust in God even in the midst of unthinkable tragedy.
In 1880 the Spaffords lost their only son to Scarlet Fever at the age of three. This even by itself would have been utterly devastating.
Horatio later began to suffer financial difficulty and as a diversion arranged a trip overseas to listen to DL Moody, a famous preacher of the time. At the last minute he was unable to travel and so his wife and four daughters travelled alone. Halfway across the Atlantic Ocean disaster struck as their ship collided with another. Many lives were lost, including all four of Horatio’s daughters. When his wife reached land her telegram to her husband simply read, “Saved alone.”
Horatio understandably hurried to be by his wife’s side in her grief and in the midst of his own grief he boarded a ship. You would imagine that on this journey his mind would have been focused on not only this devastation but the previous grief that had befallen the family. You would have forgiven him for feeling hopeless and in despair. Yet, as the boat passed the place where his daughters perished, he penned the now-famous 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.”
The hymn was later set to music by Philip Bliss and in church we now sing both this original version and a modern song by Matt Redman which incorporates the words and tune of the chorus.
This hymn should be both an encouragement and a challenge to us all, that no matter if the rest of our lives are falling apart at the seams only one thing truly matters both in this life and after death and that is the state of our soul.
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
It is well (it is well)
with my soul (with my soul)
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!
Words: Horatio G. Spafford, 1873.
Tune: Ville du Havre, Philip P. Bliss
Our Pastor spoke on “It is well with my soul” shortly after this post was written. You can listen to what he had to say in the Sermon section.