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Saturday, November 21, 2015

It Is Well With My Soul: The Story Behind the Hymn

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Horatio Spafford
Image Credit:  Creator Unknown - Public Domain Image - via Wikimedia Commons
The words to the well known hymn, It Is Well With My Soul, were written by a Chicago lawyer by the name of Horatio Spafford. When Spafford wrote the heart gripping words to the hymn, he was not insinuating that all things were going well in his life. In fact, Spafford’s words were meant as a song of thanksgiving and praise to our God in the midst of deep grief and loss as a result of a series of tragedies that can only be imagined by most.

Horatio Spafford and the Song "It Is Well With My Soul"


In the 1860s, Horatio and his wife, Anna, lived in Chicago. The Spaffords were friends with D.L. Moody and were well known in Chicago for their support of the preacher. By 1870, in spite of a successful career, Horatio and Anna Spafford began to suffer a series of tragedies that would change their lives forever, beginning with the death of their son. His death was the result of Scarlet Fever at the tender age of four. Approximately one year later, a large portion of Spafford’s real estate holdings were lost as a result of the Great Chicago Fire. Spafford lost his life’s savings.


In 1873, D.L. Moody was planning an evangelistic campaign in Great Britain. Horatio, Anna, and their four daughters planned to join Moody. They were eager to help and eager to get away after suffering such losses. In November of 1873, the Spaffords traveled to New York in anticipation of boarding the French ship, Ville de Havre. Before the family sailed, Horatio was called back to Chicago in order to tend a last minute business development. Horatio did not want to spoil the trip for his family so he headed back to Chicago alone and sent his wife and daughters ahead to Europe. He planned to join them later. Nine days later, Spafford’s wife, Anna, sent him a telegram from Wales. The telegram read, “Saved alone.”

The French ship, Ville de Havre, had collided with an English vessel, The Lochearn, on November 22, 1873. It took only 12 minutes to sink, taking 226 lives with it. Anna’s last memories were of her daughter being ripped from her arms by the raging waters. She alone had been rescued from the debris. All four daughters died in the accident.

Horatio boarded the next ship out of New York to join Anna. During the voyage to Europe, the ship’s captain called Horatio Spafford to the ship’s bridge. It was there that the captain explained to Horatio that they were passing over the spot where his daughters had perished. Horatio returned to his cabin and wrote 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.
  • Refrain:
    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 pang 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.

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