It Is Well With My Soul
Horatio Spafford was a wealthy Chicago lawyer with a thriving legal practice, a beautiful home, a wife, four daughters and a son. At the very height of his personal and financial success, he and his wife Anna suffered the tragic loss of their young son. Soon after, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed his real estate investments. Thinking a trip abroad would raise their spirits, he planned to take his family to Europe. Unexpected last minute business kept Horatio in Chicago, but he sent his wife and four daughters, Tanetta age eleven, Bessie nine, five year old Margaret Lee, and two year old Annie, ahead on the voyage with plans to join them on the next passage.
On November 22, 1873 in the mid-Atlantic, their ship, the Ville de Havre, collided with the Lochearn, an English vessel, and sunk in only 12 minutes claiming the lives of 226 crew and passengers. Anna Spafford had stood bravely on the deck desperately clutching her daughters while surrounded by the terror of a sinking ship. Her last memory was of her tiny child Annie being torn violently from her arms by the force of the waters. Anna was saved from drowning by a plank which floated beneath her unconscious body propping her up. Upon arriving in England, she sent a telegram to her husband beginning with these words…"saved alone."
With a broken heart, Spafford boarded a ship that would take him to his grieving wife. On the passage across the Atlantic, the captain of the ship called him to the bridge. “A careful reckoning has been made,” he said, “and I believe we are now passing the place where the Ville de Havre sank. The water is three miles deep.” As he crossed over the abyss that held the bodies of his beloved daughters, it is said that Horatio returned to his cabin and penned the lyrics to the song we know so well:
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.
Would you or I be of equal resolve if we endured such a loss? The lyrics written by Spafford echo the response of the Shunammite woman to Elisha at the death of her only child: “When the man of God saw her at a distance, he said to Gehazi his servant, “Behold, there is the Shunammite. Please run now to meet her and say to her, ‘Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband? Is it well with the child?’” And she answered, “It is well.” 2 Kings 4
In spite of the horrible tragedy, the comfort that comes from a strong faith in God shines brightly through the gloom. In spite of his anguish, Spafford shared in the strength of the apostle Paul, “for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13
God never promised us a life without sorrow. There will be many turns in our road of life. None of us truly know how we will react to overwhelming hurt until we suffer such a loss. When Sir Harry Lauder of Scotland received word that his son had been killed on a French battlefield in World War I, he said, “In a time like this, there are three courses open to man: He may give way to despair and become bitter. He may endeavor to drown his sorrow in drink or in a life of wickedness. Or he may turn to God.” We are told to “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:6-7
A few months ago I attended the funeral for the wife of a dear golf buddy of mine. I have never seen a man so broken, so lost. They had been wed for more than fifty years. These are times that deeply trouble your soul. The service was held in a church that for years has served the Czech people from the farming community of Taylor. This was not a day that I was expecting to find a message from God, but I did. Or, should I say that it found me. “Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart.” Eccl 7:2
Before the ceremony began, we visited with a stranger who sat nearby. He shared that his wife had died the past year, and that the service we attended served to freshen his mourning. He said this, “the past year would have been unbearable if not for the hope of the resurrection!” This man, who had opened his soul to a stranger, was a believer. He had hope because God said it was so. “For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” 1 Corinthians 15:16-19
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 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.
When I was a child, the preacher would describe the plight of the Sadducees using an analogy to the death of a pet, “like little dog Rover, when he’s dead, he’s dead all over.” If there is no resurrection, than all those hopes that we have for loved ones gone before us are in vain! Our hope has been foolish, for they have died to never live again. But Paul’s letter tells us that the end of this life, the death suffered by the sweet lady of my friend, is not the end of all things. We shall one day be resurrected! How? Through the resurrection of Jesus our savior! “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” 1 Cor 15
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 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.
Through faith in God there is the promise of peace and contentment for those who place their trust in Him. “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,” Isaiah 25. We each may look forward with confidence to being reunited with our dear loved ones and live with our Savior forever if we keep our faith in His promises. “Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” John 16:22
Cast your cares on Him for He cares for you. God knows your troubles and cares when you suffer, when you mourn. “I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.” Psalm 116