You’ve probably heard of Horatio Spafford. You may realise he is the author of the hymn “It Is Well” (When Peace Like a River) and that he suffered the tragic loss of his four daughters before penning those now famous words. But here is a little more background you may not be aware of, along with an interesting question from Tim Keller:
“Horatio Spafford was an American lawyer who lost everything he had in the Chicago fire of 1871. Only two years later, he sent his wife, Anna, and their four daughters on a ship across the Atlantic Ocean to England. The ship hit another ship and began to sink. As it was sinking, Anna got the four little girls together and prayed. The ship went under the water, and they all were scattered into the waves, and all four little girls drowned. Anna was found floating unconscious in the water by a rescue ship. They took her to England, and she cabled Horatio Spafford just two words: “saved alone.”
When Spafford was on the ship on his way to England to bring his wife home, he began to write a hymn – “It is well with my soul… When peace, like a river…” Those are the words he wrote.
Here is what I want you to think about: why would a man dealing with his grief, seeking the peace of God – the peace like a river – spend the entire hymn on Jesus and His work of salvation? And why would he bring up the subject of his own sin at such a time? He wrote:
My sin, oh, though 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.
What has that got to do with his four little girls who are dead? Everything!
Do you know why? When things go wrong, one of the ways you lose your peace is that you think maybe you are being punished. But look at the cross! All the punishment fell on Jesus. Another thing you may think is that maybe God doesn’t care. But look at the cross! The Bible gives you a God that says, “I have lost a child too; but not involuntarily – voluntarily, on the cross, for your sake. So that I could bring you into my family.”
In that hymn you can watch a man thinking, thanking and loving himself into the peace of God. It worked for him under those circumstances. It worked for Paul under his circumstances (Phil 4:6-13). It will work for you.
– Timothy Keller, “Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering”, p.311-312
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3)
You can listen to a new arrangement of IT IS WELL by Todd Fields. Find it here on Spotify (our church songlist for 2014).
Reblogged this on The Christian Gazette.
Thanks for sharing and for this version of one of my favorite hymns.
Thanks Pete for your comment and for reading along. Blessings to you
This has always been one of my favorite hymns, so different too often from our own reaction to sorrow and stress. Thank you for posting this. Philip Bliss has a story, too.
Ok thanks. I will look him up as well. Thanks for reading! Blessings
I’m pretty sure that I’m going to weep the next time that I hear the song! I didn’t know the back story until now. Art is the sweetest of evangelists and Horatio Spafford, speaking his sorrow and joy through music, shows the true POWER of faith in Christ. Yes… isn’t it a wonder?
Oh Christina, sorry if that wrecks it for you…..but I find it makes it an even more amazing song to sing together, for the reality of his grief and that he could still say ‘it is well with my soul’. Blessings! Amen to the power of faith in Christ
No, I thank you! Your post has made this beautiful song even more beautiful and powerful. Like you said, the reality that he could still say “it is well with my soul” is amazing.
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When I lost my son many years ago, I was so angry and wanted to know why I was being punished. It took 15 years for me to hear God and praise Him for taking my son to be with Him.
Oh blessings to you! Thankyou for sharing