In visiting my parents recently, I sang for them the songs they love to hear to try to ease the pain of their illness. Daddy and I sang the hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul,” and I was a little girl again singing this hymn with him on many Sundays at Coke Methodist Church. Looking back then, he wanted me to sing soprano but I was always an alto. Today, I am well versed in both.
Then Daddy shared with me how this hymn came to be written. Today, I hereby share the story with you:
The hymn "It is Well with My Soul" becomes closest to heart for one undergoing grief. It is Well lyrics was written by a Presbyterian lawyer Horatio G. Spafford (1828-1888) and composed by Philip P. Bliss (1838-1876). This deeply touching sacred song has long been loved.
The Bible scripture reference is Psalm 46:1 "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble."
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In the late 1860s, life was good for Horatio G. Spafford and his wife Anna. They were living in a suburb on the north side of Chicago with their five children when tragedy struck. Their four year-old son, Horatio, Jr. died of scarlet fever. Disaster struck again in October of 1871 when the Great Chicago Fire broke out and the Spaffords lost most of their real estate holdings. Even then, they did not despair. They had their home and their four remaining children. God was good.
In 1873, Spafford and his wife Anna planned a trip to Europe. At the last minute, an urgent business matter arose and Spafford could not leave. He sent his wife and four daughters ahead aboard the steamer Ville du Havre and planned to join them soon. In the wee hours of the morning on November 22, 1873, the Ville du Havre collided with an iron sailing ship. Anna survived but their four daughters perished. When Anna arrived in Cardiff, Wales, she telegraphed her husband, "Saved alone. What shall I do?"
As soon as he received Anna's telegram, Spafford left Chicago to bring his wife home. Sailing across the Atlantic Ocean the captain of the ship called him to the bridge. He informed Spafford that they were now passing the place where the Ville du Havre collided with the iron sailing ship. That night, alone in his cabin Spafford penned the words to his famous hymn, "It Is Well With My Soul." His faith in God never faltered.
Following their reunion in Europe, the Spaffords returned to Chicago to begin their lives again. God blessed the Spaffords with three more children, two daughters and another son. They again named their son "Horatio," not for his father but for their lost son. Tragically, when little Horatio reached the age of four, just as his brother before him, he died from scarlet fever. After the loss of little Horatio, the Spaffords decided to leave their home in America and settle in Jerusalem. In September of 1881, the Spaffords left America for Israel.
In 1876, P.P. Bliss put Spafford's words to music. This hymn is still sung in Protestant churches today. "It Is Well With My Soul" was first sung in public by Bliss on November 24, 1876 before an assembly of ministers hosted by Dwight L. Moody in Chicago's Farewell Hall. Ironically, one month later, Bliss and his wife were killed in a horrific train wreck. It is believed that Spafford took the words "It is well" from the words of the Shunammite woman that lost her only son who was later raised from the dead by Elisha. (2 Kings 4:26)
Spafford was born on October 20, 1828 in Lansingburgh, New York and died of Malaria on October 16, 1888 in Jerusalem. Anna continued to work in the surrounding areas of Jerusalem until her death in 1923. The Spaffords were laid to eternal rest in Jerusalem. It can be said that "It Is Well With Their Souls."
The Spafford Family Photo Album
It Is Well with My Soul | Horatio G. Spafford
- When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, 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.