‘It is Well With My Soul’ by H.G. Spafford and Philip Bliss. Video Performance by Michael Eldridge from Acapeldridge.
‘It Is Well with My Soul’ is a very inspirational and powerful Christian Song that has brought peace to many in the midst of their most severe storms of life. The words to this song were penned by Horatio Spafford (a prominent Chicago lawyer) after the tragic loss of his four daughters in a shipwreck in the Atlantic Ocean in 1873. The music was composed by the famous song writer, Philip P. Bliss, who first sang this song in public on November 24, 1876 before an assembly hosted by Dwight L. Moody in Chicago. Over 1,000 ministers were in attendance. Philip Bliss would die only one month later in a tragic train accident in Ohio.
The Amazing Story That Inspired The Song
‘It Is Well With My Soul’
by Steve Nordholm
Horatio G. Spafford, a successful Chicago lawyer, was known as a sincere, devout Christian. He was an active member of the Presbyterian church, a loyal friend and supporter of D. L. Moody and other evangelical leaders of his day. He was dedicated to social causes, helped the poor and was active in the abolitionist movement.
This famous song was written after several traumatic events in Mr. Spafford’s life. First was the death of his only son, Horatio Jr, in 1870, who died of scarlet fever at only four years of age. The next tragedy was the great Chicago Fire of 1871 in which he suffered a substantial financial loss from his real estate holdings in that same city.
Then the third big tragedy occured in 1873. Horatio had planned to travel to Europe with his family on the steamer S.S. Ville du Havre for a much needed vacation and to meet up with Dwight L. Moody at the Moody Revival Meetings being held in England at that time. Mr. Spafford was delayed by zoning problems following the Great Chicago Fire, so he decided to send his family on ahead of him to England. He would catch a later ship to join them in England.
On November 22, 1873 while crossing the Atlantic, the S.S. Ville du Havre, the ship on which Horatio Spafford’s family was sailing to England, sank in only 12 to 20 minutes after a collision with the British iron sailing ship, the Lochearn. All four of Spafford’s daughters (Annie, Maggie, Bessie, and Tanetta) died in that shipwreck. Only 81 of the 307 passengers and crew members survived. The unconscious Anna Spafford, floating on some shipwreck debris, was picked up by the crew of the Lockhearn, which was also in danger of sinking, and later by the Trimountain, an American sailing cargo ship.
After arriving safely on shore in Cardiff, Wales, Horatio’s wife Anna sent Horatio the now famous telegram which began with the words, “Saved alone. What shall I do …” Shortly afterwards, as Mr. Spafford traveled to meet his grieving wife, and as his ship passed near the place in the Atlantic where his four young daughters had died, he was inspired to write the words to this now famous song, “It Is Well With My Soul”.
Horatio Spafford’s Trials Are Similar To Those Of Job
Job was a righteous man who loved and feared God. He enjoyed the blessings of God and had great wealth, a solid family and a good reputation among men. Then he lost first his wealth and servants, and then he lost his children — seven sons and three daughters. After all of this tragedy Job said the following:
” ‘ The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.’
Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.”
— Job 1: 21 – 22 NASB
Similar to these events in Job’s life, in his early life Horatio Spafford was blessed financially as a successful Chicago lawyer. He enjoyed his wife, family and friends. He was respected in his community and an outstanding elder in his church. Then tragedy struck. First he lost his son in 1870, then he lost most of his wealth in the Chicago fire of 1871, and finally he lost his four daughters in the tragic shipwreck that took their lives in 1873. After all of this he wrote the words to the now famous song: ‘It Is Well With My Soul.’
Now back to Job’s story. Next, Job’s friends came to comfort him. A common message from most of them was that Job must have done something wrong to have all of this calamity befall him. At one point Job responded to these allegations with the following prophetic (of Christ) words of hope and faith:
“As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives,
And at the last He will take His stand on the earth.
Even after my skin is destroyed,
Yet from my flesh I shall see God;
Whom I myself shall behold,
And whom my eyes will see and not another.”
— Job 19: 25 – 27 NASB
Similar to Job’s experience, Horatio found that most members of his church felt that he must have done something wrong to have the tragedies he went through happen. God must be punishing him for wrong doing.
Bertha Spafford Vester, Horatio’s daughter, wrote of her father in her book “Our Jerusalem.”
“In Chicago, Father searched his life for explanation. Until now, it had flowed gently as a river. Spiritual peace and worldly security had sustained his early years, his family life and his home… All around him people were asking the unvoiced question; ‘What guilt had brought this sweeping tragedy to Anna and Hoaratio Spafford?’… Father became convinced that God was kind and that he would see his children again in heaven. This thought calmed his heart, but it was to bring Father into open conflict with what was then the Christian world… To Father, this was a passing through the “valley of the shadow of death,” but his faith came through triumphant and strong. On the high seas, near the place where his children perished, he wrote the hymn that was to give comfort to so many…”
As Job later had his fortunes restored and enjoyed other sons and daughters, Horatio, with Anna, next moved to Jerusalem, where he and Anna spent the rest of their lives sharing the love of God and helping those in need whether they be Jewish, Christian or Muslim. Two other daughters were born to Horatio and Anna after the tragic shipwreck, and another son. (Note: This son was also to die at a young age.)
Lessons To Be Learned
The Bible tells us not to be wise in our own eyes, but rather to trust God in every situation of life, and let God direct our way.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD and turn away from evil.
— Prov 3: 5 – 7 NASB
There is much that happens in life that is hard to understand, as we see here in the life of Horatio Spafford and in the life of Job. As with Job’s and Horatio’s friends who dished out the common human understanding on the tragic events in the lives of these two men, it is easy for us to sit as judge on what happens in other people’s lives. When we rely on our own wisdom to sort out why some people are blessed and others suffer we will usually get it wrong. Only when we turn to God’s wisdom, and turn to God for the correct understanding of the situation can we get it right. Sometimes, all we can do is trust God even though we do not understand why or how the events of our lives, or others’ lives, are taking place.
Whatever is happening in your life right now, for good or ill, never question why God has allowed it to happen. Instead, trust God through the calms and the storms of life knowing that He is with you, He knows what is happening, and He has a plan for you that, if followed, ends with you being in the best place possible with God in Heaven for eternity. Our faith in God needs to be strong enough to weather any storm that life may throw our way so that we can say with Horatio, “Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to know, it is well, it is well with my soul.”
It Is Well With My Soul
by Horatio G. Spafford – 1873
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me *to say, (*originally ‘to know’)
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 blessed assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin – O the joy 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!
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life,
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
But Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of 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.