A Christian’s ultimate hope and confidence is never in present earthly circumstances. Men of the world whose souls are in danger of destruction may enjoy the sweetest surroundings of life, while a Christian may be found in the direst straits through tragedy, leading to thoughts of despair.
Horatio Spafford had been a successful lawyer in Chicago before that city’s great fire in 1871. He had made what appeared to be sound investments in real estate, but with bank failures following the Chicago fire, Spafford lost a fortune. During the following years he labored to help some of the 100,000 homeless to rebuild. In 1873, he was advised to take a trip to Europe to escape his sorrows at home. Due to business commitments, he sent his wife and family ahead of him and promised he would soon follow. Just days later, he received an unexpected and devastating telegram from his wife. Their cruise ship had been struck by an oncoming vessel and almost immediately went under. The two hundred and twenty six fatalities included their four daughters, Maggie, Tanetta, Annie, and Bessie. Mrs. Spafford was found nearly unconscious but still clinging to some wreckage. Along with forty seven other survivors, she had been picked up by a ship that several days later docked in Cardiff, Wales.
From there, she telegrammed the heart- breaking news to her husband, “Saved Alone.” Most likely, the Spaffords were planning to join their good friend and evangelist D.L. Moody, who was conducting gospel campaigns in Great Britain. By the time Horatio Spafford met up with his wife in London, Moody was able to visit them to give whatever comfort he could. The words of the prophet Isaiah would be suitable to ease the pain of their broken hearts: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee” (Isaiah 26:3).
Through the power of God’s grace, the Spaffords found peace and strength to overcome their sorrow. It is commonly reported that three years later, on a return trip to America, while sailing near the area where the luxury French Cruise Ship S.S. Ville du Havre had sunk with the loss of so many lives, including his four precious daughters, Horatio Spafford wrote the hymn, “It is Well with My Soul.”
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, (it is well),
With my soul, (with my soul)
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
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.
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!
Blessèd hope, blessèd 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!
There is no telling how God’s people might respond to such tragedy, but when our faith is in Christ and the power of His gospel, while we may have lost so much in this earthly life, we are assured: “It is well with my soul.”