The story behind the composition of the famous hymn “It Is Well with My Soul” is so familiar, I hesitate to recount it for fear of being unoriginal, but it is so inspiring I cannot help myself.
Horatio Spafford was a prominent nineteenth century lawyer who had experienced numerous tragedies with his wife, Anna, the first of which was the death of their four-year-old son in 1870. The following year he was ruined financially when the Great Chicago Fire wiped out most of his real estate holdings.
In 1873, Spafford decided to take his family on a vacation to England, but when business detained him at the last minute, he sent his wife and their four daughters ahead, planning to join them as soon as possible. On November 22, in the middle of the night, another ship struck their ship and it sank in twelve minutes. Among those who lost their lives were Spafford’s four girls, aged eleven, nine, five, and two. Spafford’s wife was found unconscious, floating on a wooden spar. Nine days later, she telegraphed her husband from Wales: “Saved alone. What shall I do?” Spafford immediately found passage on a ship going across the Atlantic so that he could join his wife. When his ship passed over the spot where his daughters had died, the captain summoned Spafford to his cabin to tell him. As the story goes, shortly thereafter Spafford began composing the hymn for which he is now known.
The words of this beautiful song read:
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.
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!
It is well with my soul, It is well, it is well, with my soul.
I don’t know about you, but those words often put me to shame, especially knowing the story behind their composition. I have never suffered trials to the extent of Horatio Spafford, yet I confess I struggle to say what I, along with Spafford, have been taught to say: it is well with my soul.
This beautiful hymn is a reminder that God can give purpose to our suffering and that one day Christ will return to end death, suffering, and loss. Until then, let us learn to say, “It is well with my soul!”