“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”
stanza from the hymn It Is Well With My Soul
Horatio G. Spafford
Is all well with your soul?
I know it’s not with mine….not in recent months…
If you are a breathing, sensory processing, thinking, feeling sort of human being,
chances are, that given the current day and times, all is not well with
your soul either.
How could it be?
I for one have gravitated from being an observer to what all is currently happening
around us to feeling angry, helpless, sad and frustrated.
From natural disasters that seem to ride in on each incoming wave to to the human
tragedies as seen in Las Vegas, to just our constant state of civil unrest and
disdain for our fellow citizens…
this oh so divided nation is breaking my heart.
Add in to that each of our own personal struggles and tragedies—
and life is becoming heavy to say the least.
Those of us of the faith pray, we read scripture, we listen and often we grow weary
by the weight of it all.
Those non believers amongst us often then jump on that weariness as some sort of sign of
our waffling and inner struggle as they gleefully shout that they told us all along…
there is no loving God….
And of course we know better than that…but it sure gets frustrating because we pray
and we pay and we just keep wrestling with the never-ending madness.
Growing up in the Episcopal church, the hymn It Is Well With My Soul was not
one of the hymns we sang…however I was familiar with it none the less…
So as I sat here today stewing a bit with the current condition of my “soul”—
as the heaviness just seems a bit heavier today than usual,
I did a little digging into the background of the hymn.
What I found was heart wrenching to say the least.
If there was a soul who wrestled with the heaviness and frustration and heartbreak
of life, it was Horatio G. Spafford…a successful businessman out of Chicago during
the mid 19th century.
I offer to you the following back story to this well know hymn…a story of reality, tragedy and eventually peace….
a peace in knowing that there is One who is always greater
than any trial, tragedy or frustration that we will ever face in this life….
A peace in knowing that there is One who has overcome each and every sorrow…
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 hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
With this hymn comes one of the most heartrending stories in the annals of hymnody.
The author, Horatio G. Spafford (1828-1888), was a Presbyterian layman from Chicago.
He had established a very successful legal practice as a young businessman and was
also a devout Christian.
Among his close friends were several evangelists including the famous
Dwight L. Moody, also from Chicago.
Spafford’s fortune evaporated in the wake of the great Chicago Fire of 1871.
Having invested heavily in real estate along Lake Michigan’s shoreline,
he lost everything overnight.
In a saga reminiscent of Job, his son died a short time before his financial disaster.
But the worst was yet to come.
Hymnologist Kenneth Osbeck tells the story:
“Desiring a rest for his wife and four daughters as well as wishing to join
and assist Moody and [his musician Ira] Sankey in one of their campaigns
in Great Britain, Spafford planned a European trip for his family in 1873.
In November of that year, due to unexpected last-minute business developments,
he had to remain in Chicago,
but sent his wife and four daughters on ahead as scheduled on the
S.S. Ville du Havre.
He expected to follow in a few days.
About four days into the crossing of the Atlantic,
the Ville du Harve collided with a powerful, iron-hulled Scottish ship, the Loch Earn. Suddenly, all of those on board were in grave danger.
Anna hurriedly brought her four children to the deck.
She knelt there with Annie, Margaret Lee, Bessie and Tanetta and prayed
that God would spare them if that could be His will,
or to make them willing to endure whatever awaited them.
Within approximately 12 minutes, the Ville du Harve slipped beneath
the dark waters of the Atlantic, carrying with it 226 of the passengers
including the four Spafford children.
A sailor, rowing a small boat over the spot where the ship went down,
spotted a woman floating on a piece of the wreckage.
It was Anna, still alive.
He pulled her into the boat and they were picked up by another large vessel which,
nine days later, landed them in Cardiff, Wales.
Another of the ship’s survivors, Pastor Weiss, later recalled Anna saying,
“God gave me four daughters.
Now they have been taken from me.
Someday I will understand why.”
From there she wired her husband a message which began,
“Saved alone, what shall I do?”
Mr. Spafford later framed the telegram and placed it in his office.
Spafford left immediately to join his wife.
This hymn is said to have been penned as he approached the area of the ocean
thought to be where the ship carrying his daughters had sunk.
Another daughter, Bertha, was born in 1878 as well as a son, Horatio, in 1880,
though he later died of scarlet fever.
After the birth of daughter Grace in 1881,
Spafford and his wife moved to Jerusalem out of a deep interest in the Holy Land.
There they established the American Colony,
a Christian utopian society engaged in philanthropic activities among Jews,
Muslims and Christians.
After decades of benevolent activities, the Colony ceased to be a communal society
in the 1950s, though it continued in a second life as the American Colony Hotel,
the first home of the talks between Palestine and Israel that eventually led to the 1983 Oslo Peace Accords
(excerpted from both an article written for the United Methodist Discipleship Ministries
by Dr. Hawn who is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology, SMU as well as from a story that ran in the St Augustine Record)
And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding,
shall keep your hearts, your minds through Christ Jesus.