Few of us have experienced the kind of serial tragedy that Horatio Spafford (b.1828-d.1888) endured. A Chicago lawyer, Spafford had just invested heavily in property when the Great Chicago Fire broke out in 1871. He lost most of his property and experienced a financial crisis as a result.
A few years later, in 1873, Spafford decided the family needed a vacation. He was friends with preacher D. L. Moody, and arranged to visit him with the thought to perhaps help for a time. Just as the Spaffords were about to embark on their journey, business matters arose which prevented Horatio from sailing. His wife Annie and their four daughters went on ahead.
Tragically, in the midst of that journey, the ship the Spafford family was on (the Ville du Havre) collided with another vessel and sank. Only Horatio’s wife Annie survived, all four of their small daughters perishing. When Annie finally reached land after being rescued, she sent her husband a telegram saying “Saved alone. What shall I do.”
While sailing to join his wife, Horatio Spafford was inspired to write the lyrics to the famous hymn “It is Well With My Soul.” It is said that as his ship crossed the spot where the Ville du Havre sank, the line “It is well with my soul” came to his mind. From there he penned the now famous hymn:
It is Well With My Soul
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 (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 hath 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 His cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pain shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
And Lord haste the day, when the 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.
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Tragedy did not end for the family there. Horatio and Annie continued to have children, but lost their three year old son Horatio to scarlet fever. Only daughters Bertha and Grace survived to adulthood.
The music to accompany the lyrics of “It is Well With My Soul” was composed by Philip Bliss. Not long after he wrote this piece, Bliss was killed in a train crash.
How Can Your Soul Be “Well” in Tragedy?
While you and I might not be subjected to the multitude and magnitude of loss that Horatio Spafford experienced, enduring pain and sorrow is part of life this side of heaven. How can we rejoice in the midst of grief?
The greatness of this hymn is that Spafford focused his heart on Jesus Christ. His circumstances were dire, and his loss was catastrophic, but his eyes were on Christ. He kept an eternal perspective.
It is Well with My Soul reminds me of the words Paul penned in Philippians:
I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:12-13
The winds and storms of life will come. This is guaranteed. But “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) Horatio Spafford’s lyrics remind us that though sorrow, trial, attack, and even earthly death may prevail, Jesus has borne our sin, all of it, and so our souls may be at peace.
As Kathy reminded us “When circumstances are dire, when the way is difficult, and even the future looks dark, we can praise God. We can stand firm on the truth of Who God is, even when our emotions tell us He doesn’t care or He has forgotten us.”
Like Horatio Spafford, may we each this day sing with our thoughts and deeds “For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live.”
Question: Have you ever experienced supernatural peace in the midst of tragedy?
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Do you know the tragic story behind the beloved hymn “It is Well With My Soul”? #SingPraise @donotdepart http://wp.me/p1Su7F-2TP Click to tweet
How can we rejoice in the midst of grief? #SingPraise @donotdepart http://wp.me/p1Su7F-2TP Click to tweet
May we each this day sing “For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live.” #SingPraise @donotdepart http://wp.me/p1Su7F-2TP Click to tweet