One of mom’s favorite hymns was “It Is Well with My Soul.” In honor of her request, I sang the song at her funeral. It was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. But I wanted to do it. I needed to.
Even when I don’t feel like it, I know it is well with my soul.
I found this document on my mom’s computer shortly after she died. It gives a short summary of the hymn’s background. I don’t know where she found it (I doubt she wrote it), but I know she found strength in the story behind the lyrics. If you are unaware of the history of this classic hymn, I encourage you to read below.
The hymn “It is Well with My Soul” becomes closest to heart for one undergoing grief. Written by a Presbyterian laywer Horatio G. Spafford (1828-1888) and composed by Philip P. Bliss (1838-1876), this deeply touching gospel song has long been loved.
The scripture reference is Psalm 46:1 “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
Text Author and Hymn-Writer Horatio G. Spafford
Spafford was born on October 20, 1828 in North Troy, New York. He was a successful lawyer in Chicago who maintained a keen interest in Christian activities, deeply spiritual and devoted to the scriptures.
Chicago Fire and a Son’s Loss
Sometime in 1871, a fire in Chicago heavily devastated the city, and months before that , Spafford had invested hugely in real estate by the shore of Lake Michigan. The disaster greatly wiped out his holdings. Before the fire, Spafford also experienced the loss of his son.
A Calm and Worst Life Storm
Two years after the fire, Horatio Spafford planned a trip to Europe for him and his family. He wanted a rest for his wife and four daughters, and also to assist Moody and Sankey in one of their evangelistic campaigns in Great Britain. He was not meant to travel with his family. The day in November they were due to depart, Spafford had a last minute business transaction and had to stay behind in Chicago. Nevertheless, he still sent his wife and four daughters to travel as scheduled on the S.S. Ville du Havre, expecting to follow in a few days. On November 22, the ship laden with his wife and daughters was struck by the Lockhearn, an English vessel, and sank in few minutes.
Wife “Saved Alone”
After the survivors were finally landed somewhere at Cardiff, Wales, Spafford’s wife cabled her husband with two simple words, “Saved alone.” Shortly after, Spafford left by ship on his way where his beloved four daughters had drowned, and pen at hand, wrote this most poignant text so significantly descriptive of his own personal grief – “When sorrows like sea billows roll…” The hymn “It is Well with My Soul” was born.
It is Well with My Soul
It is noteworthy that Horatio Spafford did not dwell on the theme of life’s sorrows and trials, instead, focused in the third stanza on the redemptive work of Christ, and in the fourth verse, anticipates His glorious second coming.
Composer Philip Bliss
Philip P. Bliss, the hymn composer, was a prolific writer of gospel songs. He was so impressed with the experience and expression of Spafford’s text that he shortly wrote the music for it, first published in one of the praise hymn book, Sankey-Bliss Hymnals, Gospel Hymns No. 2. Shortly after writing ‘It is Well With My Soul,’ Bliss died in a tragic train accident.
On reflection, it is divinely amazing that one could experience such personal tragedies and sorrows as did Horatio Spafford, yet, able to say with such convincing clarity, “It is well with my soul.” It is an enormous challenge to embrace the significance of this hymn.
1. When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has 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.
2. Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
3. 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!
4. 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.
5. 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!
6. And Lord, haste the day when my 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.