It Is Well
God Bless America
O Holy Night

Stories Behind the Music: Horatio Spafford's "It is Well"

In our modern age of uncertainty, anxiety and often fear, we can be encouraged by words of the beloved and timeless hymn, "It is Well with My Soul." Written during a tumultuous time in Horatio Gates Spafford's life, the hymn continues to provide peace and comfort in the midst of struggle. Spafford was born in 1828 and spent his early years in New York. He later moved to Chicago and became a successful lawyer and businessman. Spafford was also a deeply religious man, active in his Presbyterian church as a Sunday School teacher and lay servant, as well as in the Young Men's Christian Association. Beginning in the 1870s, Spafford's faith was tested by a series of tragic events. In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed real estate located along the shores of Lake Michigan, which comprised a tremendous portion of the Spafford's investments. In 1873, a physician counseled the Spaffords to take a vacation for Mrs. Spafford's health and the family's well-being. Knowing that a dear friend, Dwight L. Moody would be preaching in an evangelistic tour in England, the Spaffords decided to leave for a vacation in England. Subsequently, Spafford's wife, Anna Lawson Spafford, and their four daughters-Maggie, Tanetta, Annie, and Bessie-boarded an American ship named the S.S. Ville du Havre. Detained due to business, Mr. Spafford stayed behind but intended to follow his family in a few days.

On November 22, 1873, the S.S. Ville du Havre, sailing off the coast of Newfoundland, was struck by an English ship, the Lochearn. The Ville du Havre sank in twelve minutes. Two hundred and twenty-six lives were lost, including the Spaffords' four daughters. After hours of floating in the turbulent waters, Mrs. Spafford was rescued. Arriving in Wales, she cabled her husband with the message, "Saved alone." Receiving the horrifying news, Spafford left immediately to join his wife. He asked the captain of the ship on which he was sailing to notify him when they approached the approximate area where the Ville du Havre went down. Notified that the area was near, Spafford went down into his cabin, and near the scene of his daughters' tragic deaths, penned the words of "When Peace Like a River," better known today as "It is Well with My Soul." The hymn refers to Romans 5:8, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." The Spaffords eventually met up with Dwight Moody. "It is well," Spafford told him quietly, "the will of God be done." The words of Spafford's beloved hymn follow:

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.

Thou Satan should buffet, tho' trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
It is well with my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul.

My sin... O, 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!
It is well with my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul.

And Lord, haste the day when the 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 well with my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul.