[When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrow like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul…]
In the late 1800’s Horatio Spafford, a devout Christian (& friend of D.L. Moody’s) and wealthy Chicago lawyer, penned the words to this now famous song while sailing across the waters where his four young daughters died. But that isn’t the beginning of this story. A short time before the tragedy the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 wiped out almost every real estate investment he had.
[It is well, it is well,
With my soul, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul…]
After the fire he and his family were going to take a needed vacation to Europe as well as help D.L. Moody, it was 1873. However, last minute business was to delay him so he sent his wife and four daughters on their way. Thats when their luxury steamer the Ville de Havre was struck by the British iron sailing ship the Lochearn- sinking it within 12 minutes. Anna was rescued and days later able to send a cablegram to her husband. Her words included…“Saved alone. What shall I do…”
[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…]
As Horatio was sailing the Atlantic to meet his wife the captain called him to his cabin to notify him that they were passing over the very waters where his four daughter perished. Horatio wrote the words of “It is well” and later Philip Bliss wrote the music and the song was published by Bliss and Sankey in 1876 .
His life reminds me of Job from the Bible. Job lost his many children, lost his wealth, lost his health – his wife even encouraged him to just go ahead and curse God and die. From all appearances it would seem that Job must have done something really bad to make God so angry that He would punish him so bad.
But that was NOT at all what was going on.
Job 1:1 says, “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.” Look up and read verses six-11: God and Satan are talking about Job and Satan suggests to God that if God would allow Job’s life to go sour Job would break down and curse God to His face. So God gives Satan a certain amount of freedom to do as he pleases to Job. And one tragedy after another came Job’s way. But Job’s response in verse 21 was …”Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither; the LORD gave and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. The next verse tells us, “In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.”
Christians, let me remind you of two things:
I Peter 5:8-9 “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour; Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflications are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.”
Ephesians 6:12 “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
Of course thats not the end of the story, it has a happy ending. God blesses Job again! I encourage you to go read it for yourself.
And what about Horatio and Anna Spafford? Well, things were rough for some time and they did have more children and lost yet one more, but they also left Chicago and moved to Jerusalem. Follow all my links to learn more about their story, details vary from one source to another in some cases.
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I’ve always loved this hymn, and have been blessed by it just as many others have. God used the pain and the story of Spafford in much the same way that he has used Job’s story to encourage people during times of trial. Not a single tear is wasted in God’s economy. Thank you for sharing the background of this wonderful hymn.