The Story behind “It is Well with my Soul” – Horatio Spafford

It is Well[Written by Jane Winstead, from Yahoo Voices]

In the late 1860s life was good for Horatio G. Spafford and his wife Anna. They were living in a north side suburb of Chicago with their five children, Annie, Maggie, Bessie, Tanetta and Horatio, Jr. He had a successful law practice in Chicago. … Horatio G. Spafford was quite active in the abolitionist movement. Frances E. Willard, president of the National Women’s Christian Temperance Union as well as evangelical leaders like Dwight L. Moody were often guests in their home. …

Until now Horatio and Anna Spafford had led a charmed life. They had everything going their way. However, in 1870 their faith was tested by tragedy. Their four year old son, Horatio, Jr., died of scarlet fever. The Spaffords were devastated. In October of 1871 when the Great Chicago Fire broke out Horatio faced another test of his faith. A few months before the Great Chicago Fire, Spafford being a wealthy man, had invested much of his wealth in real estate by the shore of Lake Michigan. Not only did the Great Chicago Fire destroy most of Chicago but most of Spafford’s holdings were destroyed. 250 people died in the Great Chicago Fire and 90,000 were left homeless.

The Spaffords did not despair. Their home had been spared and they had their family. God had been good. Even though their finances were mostly depleted, Anna and Horatio used what resources they had left to feed the hungry, help the homeless, care for the sick and injured and comfort their grief stricken neighbors. The Great Chicago Fire was a great American tragedy; the Spaffords used it to show the love of the Christ to those in need.

In 1873 Anna Spafford’s health was failing and hoping to put behind the tragic loss of their son and the fire and to benefit Anna’s health, the Spaffords planned a trip to Europe. They would sail on the French steamer Ville du Havre to Europe with their four daughters. Spafford not only wanted to visit Europe but he wanted to assist Evangelists Dwight L. Moody and Ira D. Sankey in a revival they were conducting in England. …

The day they were to sail for Europe Spafford had a business emergency and could not leave. Not wanting to disappoint his wife Anna and their daughters he sent them on ahead and planned to follow on another ship in a few days. … On November 22, 1873 the steamer Ville du Havre was struck by a British iron sailing ship, the Lockhearn. The steamer Ville du Havre, with Anna Spafford and her daughters aboard, sank within twelve minutes in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Only 81 of the 307 passengers and crew members survived this tragic shipwreck.

Even though the Lockhearn was in danger of sinking the unconscious Anna Spafford was picked up from floating debris by the crew of the Lockhearn. An American cargo sailing vessel, the Trimountain, arrived in time to save the survivors of the Ville du Havre and the Lockhearn. Anna Spafford was taken to Cardiff, Wales where she telegraphed her husband Horatio. Anna’s cable was brief and heartbreaking, “Saved alone. What shall I do…” Horatio and Anna’s four daughters had drowned. As soon as he received Anna’s telegram, Horatio left Chicago without delay to bring his wife home. Sailing across the Atlantic Ocean the captain of the ship called Horatio to the bridge. He informed Horatio that “A careful reckoning has been made and I believe we are now passing the place where the Ville du Havre was wrecked. The water is three miles deep.”

That night, alone in his cabin Horatio G. Spafford penned the words to his famous hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul.” …

After Anna was rescued, Pastor Nathaniel Weiss, one of the ministers traveling with Anna and Horatio’s group remembered hearing Anna say, “God gave me four daughters. Now they have been taken from me. Someday I will understand why.” Anna was utterly devastated. Many of the survivors watched Anna closely, fearing she may try to take her life. In her grief and despair, Anna heard a soft voice speaking to her, “You were saved for a purpose!” …

It Is Well With My Soul

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.

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! 

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.

It is believed that Horatio took the words “It is well” from the words of the Shunammite woman whose only son was raised from the dead by Elisha.

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