“It Is Well With My Soul”
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3
Tragedy preceded the writing of the words of this hymn and followed closely the composing of the music. The French liner, “S.S. Ville du Havre,” was the most luxurious ship afloat when it sailed from New York in November, 1873. Among her passengers was Mrs. H.G. Spafford of Chicago, making the trip with her four children, Maggie, Tanetta, Annie and Bessie. Mr. Spafford, a lawyer and a dedicated Christian servant was unable to make the voyage with his family because of business commitments in Chicago, so recently ravaged by the Great Fire. He was happy his family was traveling on a ship with Christian companions. He told them “Goodbye,” promising to meet them in France in a few weeks.
At two o’clock on the morning of November 22, 1873, when the luxury liner was several days out, she was rammed by the English iron sailing vessel, the “Lochern.” In thirty minutes the “Ville Du Havre,” one of the largest ships afloat, settled to the bottom of the ocean, with a loss of some two-hundred twenty-six lives, including the four Spafford children. Nine days later when the survivors landed at Cardiff, Wales, Mrs. Spafford cabled her husband with these two words, “Saved alone!”
When he received her message, he said to a dear friend, “I am glad to trust the Lord when it will cost me something.” For him it was a second time of testing, coming almost too soon upon the heels of the first. In the Chicago fire he had lost everything he owned; in the tragedy at sea he had lost his four precious children. As soon as he could, he booked passage on a ship to Europe to join his wife. On the way over, in December of that same year, 1873, the Captain called him into his cabin and said, “I believe we are now passing over the place where the ‘Ville du Havre’ went down.”
That night he found it hard to sleep. But faith soon conquered doubt, and there, in the mid-Atlantic, out of his heart-break and pain, Mr. Spafford wrote the following: (the bold stanzas became that famous Hymn “It Is Well With My Soul but there were two other stanzas to the poem that few every knew about)
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul.
CHORUS: It is well, with my soul, it is well, with my soul, it is well, it is well, with my soul.
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.
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought! 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!
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live: If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pain shall be mine, for in death as in life Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
But, Lord, ‘tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait, The sky, not the grave, is our goal; Oh trump of the angel! Oh voice of the Lord! Blessed hope, blessed rest of 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.
When he and his wife met some weeks later he said, “It is well with my soul”. The Spaffords eventually went to Jerusalem where they founded a ministry and home for orphaned children.