“It Is Well With My Soul”

“It Is Well With My Soul”


Horatio G. Spafford (1828-1888)

Interesting circumstances surround the writing of this well-loved hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul.” Its author, H. G. Spafford, a well-to-do Christian lawyer in Chicago had but a short time previously undergone some severe trials in life. Not long after the loss of his only son, the great fire in Chicago swept away his heavy investments on the shore of Lake Michigan. He then decided to have a break, and planned a European tour for himself, his wife, and their four daughters. This was in the fall of 1873. Last minute business matters detained him from accompanying his wife and girls on board the Ville de Havre, but he intended to follow them a few days later. The Ville de Havre, the largest ship afloat at that time was about two-thirds of the way across the Atlantic when at two o’clock on the morning of November 22nd, 1873, she collided with an English sailing vessel. The Ville de Havre foundered rapidly, going down inside half an hour. But before it did so, Mrs. Spafford knelt in prayer with her four children asking God that they might be saved or made ready to die, if it were His will. The four children perished but Mrs. Spafford was among the 28 survivors picked up by another sailing ship. Nine days later she landed in Cardiff and immediately cabled to her husband, “SAVED ALONE,” a meaningful message which he later had framed and hung in his office. Mr. Spafford took the first available boat to join his bereaved wife in England. In deep heart sorrow he crossed the Atlantic, and as he imagined himself passing over the children’s watery grave, he wrote the words of the hymn,

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.

At that time, D.L. Moody and Ira D. Sankey were holding meetings in Edinburgh. When they received the news, they made their way south to meet with the sorrowing parents and try to offer them some comfort. They found Mr. and Mrs. Spafford completely at peace, sustained by God Himself and able to say, “It is well, God’s will be done.” It was back in the Spafford home in Chicago some months later that Mr. Sankey first saw the verses of this hymn and remarked, “These words are inspired. It is a hymn that millions will be singing for their inspiration and comfort.” God later gave to the Spaffords three other children — a boy who died when three years old, and two girls, Bertha and Grace. In 1881, along with the two girls, Mr. and Mrs. Spafford moved to Jerusalem and, with some Christian friends, set up the American colony for the care of the sick and the destitute.

One of the first boys to be received into that home was Jacob Eliahu, a 12 year-old Spanish Jew. Jacob was an orphan. Some time later, he was adopted into the Spafford home and given the name of Jacob Spafford. Two years prior to his coming to the Spafford home, Jacob had made an interesting discovery. While playing at the pool of Siloam in Old Jerusalem, he and another boy dared each other to go into the dark tunnel through which the water entered the pool. As they advanced further and further along the dark underground channel, they were suddenly startled by the noise of gushing water. Thus frightened, they turned back and made for the entrance. In doing so, Jacob slipped, and in trying to regain his poise discovered with the palm of his outstretched hand an inscribed stone slab on the wall of the underground channel. This stone was the now-famous Siloam inscription telling of the excavation of the famous underground water channel by King Hezekiah in 700 B.C. It is the oldest piece of Hebrew writing known today.

At that time, Jerusalem was about to be beseiged by King Sennacherib, the ruthless Assyrian; and the only water supply to the city, the Gihon spring, was outside the city wall. In order to bring the waters of the Gihon spring inside the besieged city, King Hezekiah engineered the excavation of this underground tunnel. The quarry men, working with all haste from both ends, hewed their way through the solid rock until they met in the middle, and water flowed inside the city. The Siloam inscription stone found by our young friend Jacob 2,500 years later told the story of the hewing of the water channel and in particular the dramatic meeting of the quarry men working from both ends.

Jacob’s interesting discovery in the year 1880 speaks to us of a city under siege. Without, the enemy, may batter at her gates or pour scorn and taunts upon her inhabitants, yet within, “all is well.” In like manner, H. G. Spafford (Jacob’s father by adoption) in his hymn pictures the soul of the believer under siege. Though the storm be ever so fierce and the assault of the enemy ever so furious, yet within faith sits serene and calm — the contemplation of Calvary’s full redemption and its glorious consummation of the rapture enabling her to sing, “It is well, 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.

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 hath 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 His 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 should 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!

(The foregoing hymn story, written by Mr. Jack Strahan of Enniskillen, Ireland, was reprinted from Assembly Testimony magazine (July-Aug., 1983 issue). Note especially the last two stanzas of “It Is Well with My Soul”; they are not found in contemporary hymnals.)