Hymn #3: It Is Well With My Soul

Lyrics: Horatio Spafford, 1873.

Music: VILLE DU HAVRE by Philip Bliss, 1876.

Theme: And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we[b] also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Romans 5:2b-4.

Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Romans 8:17-18.

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:10-11.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. I Peter 4:12-13.

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 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 blest assurance control,
That Christ has 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 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.

Almost everyone knows the general outline of the story behind this well-loved hymn: In 1871, Horatio Spafford’s only son died. Also in October of that year The Great Chicago Fire ruined Spafford financially. In 1873, he sent his family, wife Anna and four daughters, on a ship to Europe; Spafford was to follow as soon as he had wound up some business affairs. The ship carrying Spafford’s family collided with another ship and sank. All four of the Spafford daughters drowned; only Anna survived. She sent a telegram to her husband with only two words: “Saved alone.” As Mr. Spafford passed over the Atlantic near the place where his daughters died, he was inspired to write the words of this hymn.

In 1881, the Spaffords, including two new baby girls, moved to Palestine and helped start a communal mission called The American Colony with the mission of serving the poor. The colony later became the subject of the Nobel prize winning Jerusalem, by Swedish novelist Selma Lagerlöf. Leif Enger also named his novel Peace Like a River from the lyrics to this hymn.

4 thoughts on “Hymn #3: It Is Well With My Soul

  1. Based, of course, on the words in Isaiah 48:18

  2. You can check out the rest of his story here (that’s not my blog): http://senglok.blogspot.com/2005/09/biography-of-horatio-g-spafford-and.html

    The thing is, we all hear about the intensity of the Spaffords suffering, and it adds power to the song. What we DON’T retell is that Spafford and his wife essentially joined/started a cult-like group, moved to Israel, and Spafford went a bit crazy and died making claims that he was the Messiah.

    I first discovered that when I read a book about the history of America’s dealings in the Middle East and they made a side reference to the Spafford’s commune.

    Yeah, that’s sad. It’s heavy. It doesn’t fit into the evangelical box of an inspirational story. I think it’s important to talk about, though, because mental illness IS an issue and because overspiritualizing suffering doesn’t help anyone.

  3. Actually, as best I can tell Spafford became a universalist, believing that there was no hell or devil and that all men would eventually be saved in God’s mercy. He also developed an almost obsessive interest in Biblical prophecy, believing that that the Jewish return to Palestine would bring about the return of Christ.

    I may disagree with his conclusions and theology in these areas (I do), but I don’t see that these beliefs made him crazy or even a cult member. I find no substantiation for the claim that Spafford thought he was the Messiah. It is possible, even though it isn’t proven, that Spafford did suffer from mental illness, but I don’t see how that illness or his unorthodox beliefs take away from his underlying faith in Christ.

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