It Is Well

Ihoratio-g-spaffordf you’ve never heard the story of Horatio Gates Spafford, it’s quite inspiring. Born in 1828, he became a well-known lawyer in Chicago in the 1860’s. Spafford and his wife Anna married in 1861, were active in their church, and began a family.

In addition to his position as senior partner in a successful law firm, Spafford also decided to become an investor in downtown Chicago real estate early in 1871. Unfortunately, later that year, Spafford suffered a huge financial set back when his investments were destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire. But the family persevered and helped other families who suffered losses from that fire.

By 1873, Spafford and Anna had four daughters, Tanetta, Elizabeth, Maragret Lee, and Annie; Tanetta, the eldest was 11 and Annie, the youngest, was two. It was during this year that Spafford decided his family needed a special vacation and choose to take them on a trip to England where his friend, evangelist D.L. Moody, would also be preaching during the time of their visit.

Spafford had to delay his departure unexpectedly at the last minute because of business, but sent his wife and four daughters on ahead and planned to meet up with them in England. So in November, 1873, Anna and their four daughters set sail on the Ville Du Havre. While crossing the Atlantic near Newfoundland, the ship was struck by another vessel and tragically sunk in icy waters. Anna was one of the few survivors; all four of their daughters were among the 226 travelers who died.

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Anna’s Telegram: “Saved alone….”

As soon as Anna arrived in England, she sent a telegram to her husband that began, “Saved alone.” Spafford left for England to join his grieving wife, sailing over the location where his daughters had drowned. During the rest of his  journey to England, he penned the words to the well-known 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…

How could someone experience all this tragedy and say “It is well”? Author Stuart Briscoe has a great insight in his book, A Peace of My Mind (pp. 49-50): “I have no doubt that he [Spafford] would have spent every remaining penny of his fortune if it would have brought back any of his children. I am sure he would gladly have taken their place on the stricken ship if it would have saved their young lives. I cannot begin to imagine the emptiness that his father’s heart suffered after losing not only four daughters but also his only son [who died as an infant in 1880 of scarlet fever]. All of this on top of his devastating business losses. He knew pain, he knew anguish, he felt it all, experienced it all, suffered from it all. Just as any other human being would feel, experience, and suffer. He was not unfeeling and he was not a superman. He was an ordinary man whose mind was set on God, who He trusted implicitly–and it showed. So he could say, “It is well. It is well.”

Linked to Inspire Me Monday.


20 thoughts on “It Is Well

  1. Gina

    Thanks for sharing! That’s one of my & my husband’s favorite hymns & we didn’t know the story behind it. It makes it all the more powerful.


  2. Shari

    I remember singing this hymn in church when I was in high school. I knew a little of the story then, and could never get through singing it without tears. I could not get through your post today without tears either. I honestly don’t know how he and his wife endured such pain. Their faith must have been so strong. I’m glad I got to hear the details of his story. Thank you for sharing it, Nancy.


  3. Deedra

    This is a great story. I sometimes with I could find the story of my family. We had a book once but a sister who passed had it and now its gone forever. It is a great story of faith.


  4. A Full Spoon of...

    I really enjoyed reading this. Stories like these continue to teach us something about the human heart…our pain and virtues are manifests to the degree of humble in our hearts.



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