Our Favorite Hymns#3


Hope River, South Island, New Zealand, Tom Till

During the autumn of 1873, Horatio Gates Spafford and his family planned a wonderful trip to Europe to visit relatives and friends. As winter began to chill their Chicago home, Horatio, his wife Anna, and their four young daughters, Maggie, Tanetta, Annie, and Bessie (ranging in age from eighteen months to twelve yeaars), began to anticipate the sea voyage and the reunion. When the time for the trip drew close, Spafford's business encountered some difficulties that required him to remain at home. Determined not to depreive the family of the anticipated excursion, however, he kissed his wife and daughters good-bye, bade them Godspeed, and promised to join them as soon as possible.

The Spafford women embarked on the French steamer, SS Ville de havre, and began their trans-Atlantic journey. Off the coast of Newfoundland, however, tragedy struck. The ship collided with an English sailing vessel, the Loch Earn, ripping a gaping hole in the ship's hull. So massive was the damage that the Ville de Havre plunged to the bottom of the frigid sea within twenty minutes.

In the moments before the ship sank, Anna Sspafford gathered her four young girls to her side and prayed with them, holding the youngest in her arms. As the icy waters of the North Atlantic swept over the decks, the three older children disappeaared, and eventually even the baby was washed from her mother's embrace. Alone and near death herself, Anna was spotted from a lifeboat and plucked from the sea.

It was ten days before the survivors of the shipwreck were landed safely in Cardiff, Wales. From there Anna Spafford wired her anxious husband a brief and poignant message: "Saved alone." Boarding the next available ship, Horatio sailed to England, where he was reunited with his grieving wife.

The Spafford's close friend, evangelist Dwight L. Moody, was in Edinburgh, Scottland, at the time of the tragedy and came from there to join the bereaved couple. He later reported of that meeting that, though they were experiencing deep sorrow, the Spaffords never lost their abiding faith in God. They attested to this with their affirmation to Moody. "It is well. The will of God be done."

Returning to Chicago, Spafford rejoined his legal practice, once again becoming active in the local Presbyterian church as an elder and working with the YMCA.

A visitor to his office two years after the shipwreck remarked about the framed cable above Spafford's desk carrying only the words, "Saved alone." Retelling the tale, Spafford again affirmed, "It is well. God's will be done." He would later report that the phrase, "It is well," inspired him to formulate the words of a poem subsequently set to music by Philip P. Bliss.

With the writing of this very personal, yet universally applicable hymn, Spafford seemed to turn the focus of his energies from his law practice to the fulfullment of a life-long dream. In 1881, at the age of fifty-three, he and his wife left the United Stats to settle in Jerusalem. There they founded an American colony where they spent the rest of their lives.

Although Horatio Spafford's family did not live on beyond the nineteenth century, his beautiful hymn of faith lives today as a tribute to the faith of a loving Christian father. Others facing trials as great as the sea billows that swept over the sinking Ville de Havre, have learned to say with Spafford, "It is well with my soul."

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.

Though Satan should buffet, tho' 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 tho't;
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!

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.

It is well, with my soul
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Taken from HYMNS OF FAITH & INSPIRATION, Ideals Publications Incorporated, Nashville, Tennessee, 1990, pgs 20-23.

Music by Greg Buchanan