It is well.
My thoughts were fixed on the cross of Christ this morning – mainly on how my sin, being nailed to His cross, was completely washed away. That thought led to the third verse of “It Is Well” resounding over and over again in my mind.
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!
Knowing that hymns of the faith usually have a story behind them, I searched out this particular song’s story. As I read it, I recognized the story – it was one I’ve heard before – and it convicted my heart again as it had in the past. I’d like to share it with you…
This hymn was written by a Chicago lawyer, Horatio G. Spafford. You might think to write a worship song titled, ‘It is well with my soul’, you would indeed have to be a rich, successful Chicago lawyer. But the words, “When sorrows like sea billows roll … It is well with my soul”, were not written during the happiest period of Spafford’s life. On the contrary, they came from a man who had suffered almost unimaginable personal tragedy.
Horatio G. Spafford and his wife, Anna, were pretty well-known in 1860’s Chicago. And this was not just because of Horatio’s legal career and business endeavors. The Spaffords were also prominent supporters and close friends of D.L. Moody, the famous preacher. In 1870, however, things started to go wrong. The Spaffords’ only son was killed by scarlet fever at the age of four. A year later, it was fire rather than fever that struck. Horatio had invested heavily in real estate on the shores of Lake Michigan. In 1871, every one of these holdings was wiped out by the great Chicago Fire.
Aware of the toll that these disasters had taken on the family, Horatio decided to take his wife and four daughters on a holiday to England. And, not only did they need the rest — DL Moody needed the help. He was traveling around Britain on one of his great evangelistic campaigns. Horatio and Anna planned to join Moody in late 1873. And so, the Spaffords traveled to New York in November, from where they were to catch the French steamer ‘Ville de Havre’ across the Atlantic. Yet just before they set sail, a last-minute business development forced Horatio to delay. Not wanting to ruin the family holiday, Spafford persuaded his family to go as planned. He would follow on later. With this decided, Anna and her four daughters sailed East to Europe while Spafford returned West to Chicago. Just nine days later, Spafford received a telegram from his wife in Wales. It read: “Saved alone.”
On November 2nd 1873, the ‘Ville de Havre’ had collided with ‘The Lochearn’, an English vessel. It sank in only 12 minutes, claiming the lives of 226 people. Anna Spafford had stood bravely on the deck, with her daughters Annie, Maggie, Bessie and Tanetta clinging desperately to her. Her last memory had been of her baby being torn violently from her arms by the force of the waters. Anna was only saved from the fate of her daughters by a plank which floated beneath her unconscious body and propped her up. When the survivors of the wreck had been rescued, Mrs. Spafford’s first reaction was one of complete despair. Then she heard a voice speak to her, “You were spared for a purpose.” And she immediately recalled the words of a friend, “It’s easy to be grateful and good when you have so much, but take care that you are not a fair-weather friend to God.”
Upon hearing the terrible news, Horatio Spafford boarded the next ship out of New York to join his bereaved wife. Bertha Spafford (the fifth daughter of Horatio and Anna born later) explained that during her father’s voyage, the captain of the ship had called him to the bridge. “A careful reckoning has been made”, he said, “and I believe we are now passing the place where the de Havre was wrecked. The water is three miles deep.” Horatio then returned to his cabin and penned the lyrics of his great hymn.
The verse of Scripture that inspired Horatio Spafford with the words “It Is Well” comes from II Kings. Remember the Shunammite woman who so desperately wanted a son? She and her husband faithfully cared for the man of God, Elisha; when asked how her kindness could be repaid, all she wanted was a son. So the Lord provided. However, years later the son was helping his father in the fields when he suddenly become ill and died.
The woman wasted no time finding the man of God to let him know what had happened; as she approached, his servant ran out to meet her: “Is it well with thee? Is it well with thy husband? Is it well with the child?” And she answered, “It is well” (II Kings 4:26).
Her son was dead, and yet she said “it is well”…? Horatio Spafford lost his business and his five children, and yet he said “it is well”…? How is that possible?
I believe the secret to having all things “well” with your soul during heartbreaking trials and faith-testing tribulations is found in verse 3 of the hymn Horatio so gracefully penned – “my sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to His cross!” The peace that passes all understanding only comes through the washing and regeneration of the heart by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Only when we’re in Christ can we find comfort and contentment in the perfect will of God – whether there be joyful or sorrowful circumstances that come. That doesn’t mean that we’ll always understand why God allowed something to happen; but at that point, it won’t matter anymore – for we know that God in His infinite wisdom and mercy plans all things to “work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). God always has a purpose.
And it’s okay to not understand at times. It’s okay to ask God why He allowed something to happen – so long as you do it with the right spirit and attitude. Remember that we are the clay, and He is the Potter – and it is He “which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). Sometimes our wants and God’s desires won’t always agree, and when that happens it’s important to remember that God is always right and we are always wrong.
Oh, to have a faith as strong as Horatio Spafford! To have a peace like the Shunammite woman! And we can… we serve the same God they did. He hasn’t changed (Mal. 3:6a); He cannot change! He is the same yesterday, and today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). What a wonderful, gracious, merciful Savior we have!
Let me end with reminding you of the rest of the Shunammite woman’s story. It didn’t end in heartbreak. Her story had a happy ending – the Lord heard her prayer, and raised her child to life again! I love happy endings. 🙂 God is so good.
“In the storms of life and in the storms of the ages, if you’re in a rock like Jesus – though the storm is raging – it will have no effect.” ~ Micah Henson
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:
In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:
Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.
And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;
And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.
~ Colassians 2:8-15
“Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!” Amen.
[hymn story source: biblestudycharts]