The Inspiring Story of the Writing of the Famous Hymn: “It Is Well With My Soul”

Horatio Spafford.jpg

Even though he was a faithful Christian, nineteenth century lawyer and businessman Horatio Spafford knew the deep pains of tragedy.

In the year of 1871 not only had Horatio’s four-year-old son suddenly died, but also the “Great Fire of Chicago” had wiped out most of his business investments. 

With some of the small savings he had left, Horatio Spafford arranged for a family holiday in Europe with his Norwegian wife Anna and their four daughters. 

As their departure date loomed Horatio did what many overly-focused businessmen still do today – he allowed a work emergency to take precedence over his family’s vacation. Horatio Spafford put his wife and daughters onto the boat and told them he would meet them in France after he had quickly sorted the business issue. 

Horatio would never see his four young daughters again. 

A week after leaving New York  the ship Horatio’s family was travelling in was hit by another boat in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. The large passenger ship sank in a matter of minutes, and Horatio’s wife Anna was one of the few to survive. Anna was found unconscious in the ocean, floating on a beam of wood. 

Hundreds of other passengers were lost – including Horatio’s four daughters. 

Many of those who drowned in the tragedy might have been saved  – but for the fact the lifeboats had recently been repainted and the drying paint had caused them to become glued to the side of the ship. 

When Anna’s rescue boat arrived in Cardiff nine days later she sent a telegram to Horatio: “Saved alone. What shall I do?” Horatio Spafford immediately left Chicago to go to his now childless wife and bring her back home. 

On the ocean voyage to Europe, the captain of the ship Horatio was on knocked on the Christian businessman’s cabin door. The captain informed Horatio they were currently passing over the same spot the accident had happened only a few weeks’ previously. Horatio Spafford thanked the captain, spent a moment in prayer, and then picked up his pen to write down some of his thoughts.

In that cabin, in the middle of a cold North Atlantic Ocean, Horatio Spafford wrote the words to the famous Christian hymn of hope: “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.”

And the reason Horatio Spafford – in the midst of his grief – could write those words “It is well with my soul” is:- Horatio Spafford had faith he would see his children again. 

Horatio believed the promises of Christ that there is a day coming when the Lord returns where there shall be a glorious resurrection and death shall be no more. The Bible calls this “The Blessed Hope”.

The final verse of Horatio’s song describes this hope well:

“And Lord, haste the day when our 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.”

How is your soul today in the face of life’s difficulties?

Spafford children.JPG
The four Spafford daughters who died when the ship SS Ville du Havre sunk in 1873


About this blog: Pastor David Riley is a minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and lives on the Gold Coast in Australia. This article is from his “Reverential Ramblings” series – which you can subscribe to by clicking “follow” on this website.

Want to read more inspirational stories of faith from this series? Click here to read of why one olympic rower stopped in the middle of his race.David speaking 2

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