Fret Not Day 7 – Sunday Selah, “It Is Well With My Soul” (Story Behind the Song)
Yesterday, we shared a hymn well known and loved by many. “It Is Well With My Soul” has such beautiful lyrics, but they were written after tragedy and loss, and such great loss that for many would lead to anxiety, fear, bitterness and fretful thoughts. Let me share a small window into Horatio Spafford’s story that prompted the lyrics of this beautiful hymn.
Horatio was born in New York on October 20, 1828, but it was in Chicago many years later that he and his wife, Anna, led an active ministry in their church and opened their home to many visitors. They had five children and were considerably wealthy, enjoying some deep friendships with influential evangelicals—even the late Dwight L. Moody.
Horatio was a lawyer and owned quite a bit of property. But wealth and influential friends did not keep him from experiencing loss and tragedy. At the tender age of four, Horatio’s son lost his life to scarlet fever. The year following that loss, the Great Chicago Fire swept through the city, claiming hundreds of lives, and while his own family was spared, they lost quite a few of their properties to fire damage.
Two years after the fire, Horatio felt his family needed to take a trip to England where his friend Moody would be preaching. Horatio’s business delayed his own departure and so he sent his family ahead of him, planning to join them when he was able. The steamship his family boarded was struck by another ship, and 226 people on the vessel on which his family was sailing lost their lives. Four of those lost were Horatio and Anna’s children—lost in the waters at sea. Only Anna survived; she was found floating unconscious on a plank of wood with several others.
As soon as she was able, Anna sent a telegram to Horatio with the news: “Saved alone.” Oh, what heartbreaking news to receive! Horatio went at once to be with his wife, and on his way, he was called by the captain to come and see the place where his daughters lost their lives. Horatio returned to his cabin, and there he sat and penned the words to the hymn we often sing, “When peace like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll…”
Years later, they would have three more children, one of them a son, Horatio, but he also died at the age of three. Loss was something Horatio and Anna knew well; anxiety and fretting would have been understandable. And while I’m sure they experienced those feelings to a degree, they also understood that greater than all their problems was this resounding truth: It is well with my soul.
Might our hearts be warmed by the lyrics written courageously and tenderly with the pen of a man who knew loss and grief. Life is hard—it’s true! But our God has rescued our souls, and in Him we are safe forever. Thank Him today for His saving grace!