Hymn Histories : It is well with my soul
Written by : Horatio Spafford in 1873
Tune : Ville du Havre
Composer : Philip Bliss
It seems that many of our well-loved hymns are composed out of loss or despair, as indeed are many of the Psalms. This is certainly the case with this hymn.
Horatio Spafford was, without doubt, someone who had suffered. A lawyer by profession, his company had been hit by two financial crises in the early 1870s, so he decided to move his family from the USA to Europe for the start of a better life. He sent his wife and four daughters ahead, but tragedy struck when their ship sank with a great loss of life. Horatio received a telegram from his wife some days later, ‘SAVED, BUT SAVED ALONE. WHAT SHALL I DO?’
It’s almost impossible to imagine how terrible this loss was for them. Horatio set sail as soon as he could to be with Anna and when his ship reached the exact spot where his four daughters had drowned, and as he no doubt called out to the Lord in despair, these words filled his heart. He returned to his cabin and wrote his hymn:
‘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 seems almost incredible that he could write these words, but he did. He was given the strength to do so because he overwhelmingly knew that, in his Saviour, it was ‘well with his soul’.
I am sure that not one day passed when the couple didn’t think of their daughters, but their terrible loss had a profound impact on what they did with the rest of their lives They gave up a life of plenty and moved to Jerusalem to dedicate their lives to charity work with anyone in need. Their legacy is still there in the Spafford Children’s Centre set up by one of the daughters born to them after their loss, and still managed by the family.
Their lives turned out so differently to what they had imagined; yet they trusted in God and He used them in a new way. And, who knows, at some time that might be true of our lives; and how will we react? May we be ready and willing to step out in a way we perhaps never expected, in His strength, upheld by His love, and sure of His promise.
‘For I know the plans I have for you; plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ (Jeremiah 29:ll)