{Do you know the story?} “It Is Well With My Soul” — The True Events Behind the Song


Do you know the song, “It Is Well With My Soul”?  Most of us have sung it at church, or heard it played at a funeral service.  I have followed along with its words from hymnals found in the back of a pew many times. Maybe you have also? This hymn always tugged at my heart, but I never knew why. Until now… after hearing his story… Horatio Spafford’s real life story.

It is a powerful and incredibly moving memoir written in a song. A beautiful hymn not made special by its melody or lyrics, but from the amazing true story behind words penned by Horatio Spafford. A man devastated by great loss and tremendous heartache. An unimaginable pain most of us will hopefully never experience. It was a pain felt within the greatest depths of his soul.  One of desperation for God’s comfort and healing. It is a written account of how God returned peace to a man’s being, so that he could go on breathing… go on living.

While traveling by ship across the Atlantic, Horatio Spafford scribbled several phrases on a piece of paper.  He had been thinking about a number of tragic events that had unfolded recently. The most debilitating of them had brought him to that moment in time as he peered out over the rolling waves of a vast sea. A fateful journey he was destined to painstakingly endure. One that God would be with him on…

It was the year 1870 when tragedy first struck. Horatio and his wife, Anna, unexpectedly lost their only son to scarlet fever.  Before a year would pass, they would find themselves in the midst of the Great Chicago Fire. One that would ruin them financially. Horatio had been a successful lawyer in Chicago, a profession that allowed him to be a significant investor in property within the area.  But the great flames that decimated Chicago, would also bankrupt him and his family.

The year of 1873 came and the country was in an economic downturn. Horatio and his family needed a reprieve from their hardships and personal financial collapse. He and his wife Anna planned a trip to Europe and would travel by sea on the SS Ville du Havre. As their itinerary was set for voyage, a late change in business plans would delay Horatio from leaving with them. He sent his wife and four daughters ahead with assurance that he would reunite with them soon. But while crossing the Atlantic, the SS Ville du collided with the Loch Earn sea vessel and began to sink rapidly. Anna survived. Nine days later she sent her husband a telegram that read — “Saved alone”.

Alone and adrift at sea… the realization of their great loss of four daughters fell upon Anna. Though in unbearable pain and desolation, she knew in that moment that God was not finished with her life yet.

While traveling to meet his grieving Anna… Horatio was inspired to write these words as his ship passed near the place where their daughters died…

“When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know,
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 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 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.”

And through it all we see in these heartfelt words… Christ consoled him. God never left him. And Horatio’s faith was unmoved.

Horatio and Anna would see many blessings.  They went on to have two more daughters, then relocated to Jerusalem and opened a home for children. God carried this couple forward from unimaginable events and continued to use their lives for His glory — even to this day — through this classic hymn.

One might say that the Spafford’s story could be summed up in these verses…
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fill into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Psalm 46:1-3,10-11

Jesus promises, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened… and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28-29

And Jesus declares, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” John 20:21




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