It Is Well With My Soul

Millions of people have found comfort in the great gospel hymn "It Is Well with My Soul" since it was written more than a century ago. But few people know the tragic story behind the composition of the hymn—a story of a soul finding peace in God even in the midst of grief and loss. We pick up the story in 1871, the year of the great Chicago fire. One man who was particularly hard hit by the fire was a Christian named Horatio Spafford, who had invested heavily in real estate along Lake Michigan. The great fire wiped out Spafford's holdings. This was not the first disaster to strike Spafford and his wife. Only a short time earlier they had suffered the loss of their son. However, the worst was yet to come. Two years later, Spafford decided to take his wife and four daughters to Europe on vacation, where Spafford planned to assist his friend, evangelist Dwight Moody, in running an evangelistic campaign in Great Britain. But last minute business kept Spafford home in Chicago. He sent his wife and children ahead on the oceanliner S.S. Ville du Havre. And then, tragedy struck. Halfway across the Atlantic, an English vessel rammed the Ville du Havre and cut her in two. In the chaos that followed, Mrs. Spafford watched helplessly as her four daughters were swept overboard to their deaths. Within just twelve minutes the ship had sunk. The rescued survivors were taken to Wales. From there Mrs. Spafford cabled the terrible news to her husband, who was awaiting news of his family's fare. The cable consisted of just two words: "Saved alone." Spafford immediately boarded the next ship and set off for Wales to be with his wife. As his ship approached the mid-Atlantic, he looked out over the billowing waves that had taken the lives of his beloved daughters. Inspired by the sight, Spafford wrote the words of his now famous 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. What an astounding sentiment! We can only imagine the grief he must have suffered—how he must have prayed and wept and searched for meaning in the tragedy. But in the end, he was able to affirm a deep faith that, for the believer, "it is well," even in the face of great personal suffering. The greatest hymns are those that speak out of the warp and woof of a flawed and fallen world—that give expression to our deepest fears and hopes. Music helps us express thoughts too profound for simple prose, and gives melody to the richest experiences of faith. And as the life of Horatio Spafford teaches us, music can flow from a wounded heart to soothe and bless Christians for generations to come.


Chuck Colson


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