Monday, November 10, 2008

It Is Well With My Soul

As we sang "It Is Well With My Soul" this past Sunday at church, I thought of the traumatic events in the life of Horatio Spafford that led him to write this much loved hymn.

It is only by God's grace that one could experience such personal tragedies and sorrows as did Horatio Spafford, yet, be able to say with such convincing clarity, "It is well with my soul." It is an enormous challenge to embrace the significance of this hymn. (Psalm 46: 1 "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.")

Hymn-Writer Horatio G. Spafford

Spafford was born on October 20, 1828 in North Troy, New York. He was a successful lawyer in Chicago. He was deeply spiritual and devoted to scripture.

Death of Only Son & The Great Chicago Fire

The first tragedy was the death of his only son in 1871. Shortly after, on October 8, 1871, the Great Chicago Fire swept through the city. Horatio was a prominent lawyer in Chicago and had invested heavily in the city's real estate, and the fire destroyed almost everything he owned.

The Wreck of the Ville Du Havre

Two years later, in 1873, Spafford decided his family should take a vacation somewhere in Europe, and chose England knowing that his friend D. L. Moody would be preaching there in the fall. Delayed because of business, he sent ahead of him his family: his wife, Anna, and four children, daughters Annie, Maggie, Bessie, and Tanetta.

On November 21, 1873, while crossing the Atlantic on the steamship Ville du Havre, their ship was struck by an iron sailing vessel and two hundred and twenty-six people lost their lives, including all four of Spafford's daughters. Anna Spafford survived the tragedy. Upon arriving in England, she sent a telegram to Spafford beginning "Saved alone." Spafford then sailed to England, going over the location of his daughters' deaths. According to Bertha Spafford, a daughter born after the tragedy, "It Is Well With My Soul" was written on this journey.

It is Well with My Soul

Horatio Spafford wrote this most poignant text so significantly descriptive of his own personal grief – "When sorrows like sea billows roll..." It is noteworthy that he did not dwell on the theme of life's sorrows and trials, instead, focused in the third stanza on the redemptive work of Christ, and in the fourth verse, anticipates His glorious second coming.

Composer Philip Bliss

Philip P. Bliss, the hymn composer, was a prolific writer of gospel songs. He was so impressed with the experience and expression of Spafford's text that he wrote the music for it. Shortly after writing 'It is Well With My Soul,' Bliss died in a tragic train accident.


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, 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!

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,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Horatio Spafford


Andrea Cervantes said...

wow, Aaron, your knowledge knows no end. I love that you shared that. The song will have new meaning to me now. That is an amazing story. Thank you for sharing it. PS I added a link to your amazingly encouraging blog on my new, shallow, selfish blog.

Anonymous said...

I was thinking this while we sang it too! Thanks Aaron for sharing more around the song. It is a powerful song! To sing out so boldly "It is well, with my soul" is such faith and love in Christ. That hymn is another that is hard for me to get through. Thanks again Aaron!

Kelly said...

Thank you so much for posting this. That song has always been so powerful and to know the story behind it only makes it more incredible and convicting! So glad I saw your site!