Imagine that everything in your life is just perfect. You’ve met and married your soulmate and have beautiful children and a thriving career. Life is grand and it would seem to be pretty easy to say to God, “It is well with my soul.”
But now imagine that peace and joy is taken away and all that remains is you and your spouse, grief-stricken and hearts broken. Would you then find it as easy to say those same words?
The words of this beautiful and moving hymn were written by Horatio Gates Spafford in 1873. A devout Presbyterian church elder, Horatio placed his trust in God, much like Job, during times of prosperity as well as calamity. He immersed himself in the Scriptures and lived a joyous life for many years. He was a successful attorney who owned several real estate properties throughout the city of Chicago. He and his beloved wife Anna had four beautiful daughters.
But faith, no matter how strong, does not spare us from adversity.
Just as Horatio was at the pinnacle of his professional and financial success, things began to change. In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed nearly every real estate investment Horatio owned.
In 1873, to benefit Anna’s health, Horatio sent her and their daughters, Annie (12), Maggie (7), Bessie (4), and Tanetta (18 months), to Paris aboard the S.S. Ville du Havre, intending to join them after wrapping up some last-minute business in Chicago. But on November 21, the ocean liner on which Anna and their daughters were traveling was struck by the Lochearn, a British iron sailing ship, and sank in twelve minutes. Anna was saved by the crew of the Lochearn, but all four of their daughters were lost. The Trimountain arrived and transported the survivors to Cardiff, Wales, where Anna was able to send to Horatio the heart-wrenching telegram, “Saved alone. What shall I do?”
Immediately Horatio left Chicago to bring Anna home. During the crossing, the captain of the ship called Horatio to his cabin to tell him that they were passing over the spot where the Ville du Havre had gone down, taking with it his daughters. It was here that he put his pen to paper and this timeless hymn was born.
After the tragic loss of their daughters, they were blessed with two more daughters, Bertha and Grace, and two sons, Horatio and Jacob. However, Horatio died at the age of four in 1880.
The original manuscript of It Is Well With My Soul had only four verses, but a fifth verse was later added and the last line of the original song was modified. The tune was composed in 1876 by Philip Bliss, an American composer and well-known hymn writer. He titled the tune after the ship on which the Spafford daughters died, Ville du Havre.
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.”
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 in whole,
Is nailed to His cross and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh, 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 will 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.
It is well with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
“Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him.” Psalm 62:5
Taken from The Library of Congress/The American Colony in Jerusalem: Family Tragedy; Wikipedia