Until recently, I knew nothing of the events serving as impetus for the penning of one of history’s most influential Christian hymns – It Is Well With My Soul. I have sung this uplifting anthem countless times, from pew and choir loft, ever inspired by author Horatio Spafford’s message of peace, hope, and gratitude. While thanking, honoring, and glorifying his Savior, Jesus Christ, the author also sought to encourage the weary and heavy-laden, the troubled. Indeed, I am quite certain Spafford’s words have soothed many a soul the last century-and-a-half. Still, for those familiar with Spafford’s personal story, those words take on even greater meaning.
Horatio Spafford is believed to have written this historic hymn during a period of personal tragedy the likes of which most of us will never experience. Spafford, a successful Chicago attorney and real estate investor saw his life torn asunder in the span of about two years; ironically, at a time the nation in which he and his family lived was healing – from the Civil War. In 1871, Spafford and his wife, Anna, would lose their two-year-old son to scarlet fever, then see much of Horatio’s investments destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire.
In the wake of the fire, Spafford struggled to recover financially. He had planned a getaway for his family and was set to embark for England with Anna and the couple’s four daughters late in 1873 but, held up on business, he sent them on ahead. Unbeknownst to Spafford, his daughters were lost at sea during the transatlantic voyage, when their steamship, Ville Du Havre, collided with a Scottish Clipper, the Loch Earn, and sank. Upon reaching England, Anna sent a telegram to her husband who subsequently made the same voyage and joined his wife in England.
According to his daughter, Bertha – born in 1878 – it was along this journey her grieving father penned the hymn. Hence, amid his sorrows, Spafford demonstrated profound faith in Christ, finding solace in He who loved and ultimately gave His life for – the sinner.
Incidentally, the Spaffords would lose yet another son, Horatio, in 1880. He, too, fell victim to scarlet fever. Yet, by all accounts, the Spaffords remained strong in their faith and, after moving to Jerusalem, engaged in philanthropy.
As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, I am reminded of Horatio Spafford. Indeed, I am reminded of Job, of Lot. I recall numerous Biblical accounts of trials befalling one after another. I am also reminded of members of my own family, many of my friends and acquaintances who have lost loved ones, careers, relationships, their health. When we face crises, regardless of magnitude, is it not difficult to find peace? Hope? Is it not a challenge, at times, to recognize those things for which we have to be thankful?
I, for one, have experienced heartache the likes of which seemed unbearable at the time. Even now, I would more describe my life circumstances as nearer the bottom than the crest of the valley. Yet, even now, I find plenty for which to be thankful. Oh, make no mistake, my feelings of gratitude for blessings – seen, and unseen – are challenged by my feelings of despair. But when I read the words written by and recall the story of Horatio Spafford, a man who would otherwise have been crushed by the weight of his despair, I am inspired. I, for one, aspire to be ever more faithful, ever more grateful, ever more at peace in the love of Christ.
For me, it is well… And, in His mercy, love, and grace, you too shall find hope. You, too, will find all is well… It is well, with your soul.
From me, to you, Happy Thanksgiving.