The Unimaginable and Great Story Behind The Hymn It Is Well With My Soul

It Is Well With My Soul

It is well with my soul is one of the hymns that have written to be used in Christian worship and sung to glorify the Almighty God or edifying our soul about Him. In particular, the text of this hymn was penned down by Horatio Gates Spafford, a prominent American lawyer. He is also one of the Presbyterian church elders and hymnist. Horatio Gates Spafford wrote the hymn after a tragic event in his life. This hymn is absolutely a song of faith for the edification of a soul and also to glorify the Lord. The hymn specifically called “The most widely used hymn of consolation in modern Christianity.” by one historian.

Hymn Writer
It Is Well With My Soul hymn lyrics writer

The writer of the Hymn “It Is Well With My Soul” is Horatio Gates Spafford. He was born in Troy, the city in the state of New York, the USA on the 20th of October 1828. He shared the same name with his father who is also Horatio Gates Spafford and his mother is Elizabeth Clark Hewitt Spafford.

Horatio Spafford was called to bar in 1856 and decided to make his living on the West that he left for Chicago. As a trained lawyer by profession, he concentrated his practice in the area of medical jurisprudence. Indeed, his practice as a lawyer at the firm of Spafford, McDaid & Wilson is a defined success. Also, he is an investor in real estate in the central business district of the city and the main section of Downtown Chicago knows now as the Loop. Besides, Horatio Gates Spafford is an esteemed leader in Fullerton Avenue Presbyterian Church. Moreover, he partakes in volunteer ministry with celebrated evangelist D. L. Moody who is also his friend.

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Horatio Spafford shared a marriage vow with Anna Tubena Larssen (also known as Lawson), a beautiful Norwegian-American lady, in 1861. The two met when Horatio Spafford as a young man was a Sunday school teacher. Actually, Horatio Spafford was fourteen years older than Anna Tubena Larssen when they met but he waited for her till she attained marriage age. Equally important, he stood by her and also sponsored her education through school.

After the wedding, Horatio Spafford moved to a new home in Lake View on 12 acres north of Chicago with his loving wife. By 1871, the marriage has been blessed with five children, four daughters, and one son. In particular, the names of Spaffords’ children are Anna (Annie), Margaret (Maggie), Elizabeth (Bessie), Tanetta, and Horatio Spafford.

Of course, the Spaffords family was a well-to-do family with success in real estate. He owned several properties throughout the city because he invested heavily in real estate. In fact, the value of Spafford in real estate in 1870 was 38,000 US dollars. Absolutely, life was more than good for the Spaffords family, it was blessed.

Story Behind The Hymn
Horatio Gates Spafford and Anna Spafford –(Image Source)

It is well with my soul hymn is the story of a man at the acme of his profession and financial success and tragedy. The unbelievable story that this hymn of faith projects is of the Presbyterian layman from Chicago we discussed above, Horatio Gates Spafford. Certainly, his story is more similar to that of Job because he showed his trust in God during his life’s prosperity and also during the tragic moment of his life. Obviously, Spafford was a man we could call a lover of God because of his faith and devotion to the work of the His kingdom. However, the magnitude of our faith regardless of how great it is cannot exempt us from tribulation.

Apparently, the Spafform was a rich and successful Chicago lawyer, businessman, and lover of God with great affluence in society. Nevertheless, a ball of sorrow hit him and his family in 1871 when scarlet fever claimed his only son’s life at age of four.

As if that was not enough, another tragic event happened the same year that ate up almost all his investment. The unforgettable Great Chicago Fire of October 1871 actually caught him unaware.  The fire consumed the entire city of Chicago and touch almost every home and family. As stories had it, 250 lives were recorded dead in the tragic inferno and 90,000 people were left homeless. Although Spaffords home was untouched by the fire, the fire ravaged practically all his real estate investment.

It Is Well With My Soul

Above all, the disastrous event really struck Horatio Spafford’s properties and consequently wrecked his financial bliss. However, he used the little he left with to care for the hungry, sick, and homeless. The action to show the love of Christ to those in need.

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Two years after the fire, Spafford arranged a trip to Europe with the French luxury liner SS Ville du Havre steamship for his family. The intended purpose of the trip is for his wife and children to go on holiday and relax. He actually believed that a long stay in Europe would be a great benefit to the health of his wife. Also, he planned to join and assist his evangelist friend D.L. Moody and Ira Sankey (Moody’s musician) at their mission campaigns in Great Britain.

At a particular time in November 1873, he traveled with his family to the point of departure in New York for their trip to Europe. In contrast to the plan, he received an unexpected message to come back to Chicago for a business deal. He thus went back to Chicago and asked his family to continue with the trip. For this reason, Horatio Spafford was unable to embark on the journey with his family. However, he planned to join them immediately after he wrapped up the business.

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Eventually, his wife Anna Tubena Larssen Spafford, their four daughters, nanny, and several friends under the command of Captain Marino Surmonte bid the coast of New York goodbye and sail to Europe. Significantly, that was the first time Horatio Spafford and Anna Spafford would have been apart for such a long time. The historic ship Ville du Havre steaming across the Atlantic Ocean for a week. Afterward, it collided with Glasgow built an iron ship called Loch Earn. This disastrous event happened on Saturday 22 November 1872 around 2 am in morning.

It Is Well With My Soul

The collision resulted in the death of several people because the ship sank within 12 minutes which is a very short time to save lives. The captain of the two ships put in their best to rescue 61 passengers and 21 crew from drowning. Among people that were saved was Mrs. Anna Spafford who they found unconscious and hovering upon a plank of wood. Sadly, for the Spaffords, all of their four daughters drowned and perished. On that tragic night, Annie was 11 years old, Margaret was 9 years old, Elizabeth was 5 years old and youngest Tanetta was 2 years old.

On the second day, the American cargo ship Tremountain arrived at the scene.  Immediately, the rescued passengers from Ville du Havre were relocated from the Loch Earn to the Tremountain. The American cargo ship ferried them to Cardiff in Wales after 9 days. Without wasting her time, Anna Spafford quickly sent a telegram to her husband a message that says “Saved alone, what shall I do?”. In fact, Horatio Spafford framed the cable message he received from his wife and place the frame in his office.

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Upon receiving the telegram message from his wife, he booked the next available ship and embark on the voyage to meet his grieving wife and bring her back to Chicago. Along with the sailing, the captain of the ship notified Horatio Spafford when they reach the location where the Ville du Havre ship sank. That night, the bereaved Spafform was touched and penned down the poem “When peace like a river attendeth my way” in his cabin. The poem is a popular hymn known today as “it is well with my soul”. (NOTE: This was the account of the story his fifth daughter revealed in her book title Our Jerusalem and I believe is from her parents in contrast to Ira D. Sankey’s narration of the story in his book).

Life After
The Spafford children – four daughters

After the tragic event that claimed all his children (four daughters), God bless Spafford’s family with another three children. Although the younger one (and a male) was lost to scarlet fever again the other two remain healthy and strong. The couple with their children, Bertha and newborn Grace, thereafter moved to Israel and stayed in Jerusalem. There they found a group popularly known as the American Colony with a mission to help and serve the poor.

Tune For The Hymn
It Is Well With My Soul hymn tune writer
Philip Paul Bliss

Famous American hymn writer, composer, and Gospel singer, Philip P. Bliss (1838-1876), was so moved and impressed with the sentiment Spafford expressed in the poem. He then composed a peaceful tune to accompany the words and put them into music. He called the tune “Ville du Havre” after the ship that wrecked and claimed the lives of Spafford’s daughter.

After putting the poem into music, Philip P. Bliss sang the song before numbers of ministers that gathered for Evangelist Dwight L. Moody event of November 24, 1876, in Chicago’s Farwell Hall. This happened three years after the Ville du Havre disastrous experience on the sea. Afterward, he published the hymn in 1876 Gospel Songs No. 2 by Bliss and Sankey.

It Is Well With My Soul

It is well with my soul is considered to be the most influential and enduring in the Bliss repertoire. Also, it is often taken as a choral model, appearing in hymnals of a wide variety of Christian fellowships.


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