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It Is Well

Updated: Jun 29, 2023

Today in church we sang a song with the words “It is well” in them. [It is Well by Bethel Music.] Whenever I hear these words, "It is well", my mind immediately drifts to those beautiful words penned by Horatio Spafford and to his remarkable faith. Horatio had the Job-kind of faith - the kind of faith that will praise and hold onto God in the midst of the most devastating of circumstances.

Horatio Spafford (1828-1888) was a Presbyterian elder from Chicago. He was a very successful lawyer and had a lovely family that included his wife, Anna, and 4 daughters. Horatio invested heavily in real estate along the northern shore of Lake Michigan which made him very wealthy. In 1870 Horatio’s real estate holdings were valued at $38,000 dollars. An incredible amount for that time period! Horatio was a devout Christian who studied the Scriptures. He was good friends with Dwight L. Moody (Moody Bible Institute.)

Horatio had it all. But how quickly that can change.

On October 8, 1871 the Great Chicago Fire began. Back then everything was made of wood. Even planks were laid down over the sidewalks and on the roads. Little rain had fallen for the months prior to the fire and none in the 3 weeks before the fire. They don’t know how the Chicago Fire actually started but you’ve probably heard the untrue story that an Irish woman, Catherine O’Leary, had left a lantern in the shed and her cow kicked it over. I remember the song from Girl Scout’s:

Late one night, when we were all in bed,

Old Mother Leary left a lantern in the shed,

And when the cow kicked it over, she winked her eye and said,

"There'll be a HOT time on the old town tonight."


Later a reporter confessed that he had lied about the story and Catherine O’Leary was exonerated. But the damage had been done and she became a recluse for the rest of her life. Poor Mrs. O’Leary.

With the lack of rain and the high winds, the fire spread quickly and burned for a couple days. When it was over about one third of the city was destroyed - 70,000 buildings had burned, 73 miles of streets were destroyed, 300 people died and a hundred thousand people were homeless. Horatio had lost all of his real estate holdings. Despite the loss of their wealth, Horatio and Anna spent the next 2 years helping the victims of the fire.

In 1873 the Spafford family decided they needed a holiday and decided to go to England to help Dwight Moody with an evangelical crusade. They headed to New York to board the boat. At the last minute Horatio had unexpected business come up back in Chicago. Not wanting to ruin his family’s vacation, he told them to go on without him and he would be along shortly. His family headed to England on the steamship Ville du Havre. Four days into the crossing on November 22, 1873 the ship collided with an iron-hulled ship called the Loch Earn. The Ville du Havre sunk in just 12 minutes. 226 of the 313 passengers died. It was the worst maritime accident in history until the sinking of the Titanic.

Anna Spafford survived and was rescued. But all 4 of their daughters (ages 11, 9, 5, and 2) had perished. On December 1, 1873 Anna arrived in Wales and cabled Horatio in Chicago “Saved alone. What shall I do.” Horatio took the next available ship to join his wife.

Can you imagine what it would be like to lose four of your children at the same time?

During the voyage, when Horatio must have been at the depth of his grief, the captain called him to the bridge and told him they were now passing the place where the Ville du Havre had sunk. The water was 3 miles deep. That night Horatio Spafford penned the lyrics to the great hymn, It Is Well With My Soul.

His lyrics may have been inspired by II Kings 4:26 of an unnamed Shunammite woman whose adult only son had died.

“Please run now to meet her and say to her, ‘Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband? Is it well with the child?’ And she answered, “It is well.”

II Kings 4:26 NASB

The words to this hymn are beautiful. They move us. They remind us that no matter what happens in the darkest times of our lives, God is sovereign. They comfort us.

Verse 1

When peace, like a river,

attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot,

Thou hast taught me to know,

“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

Verse 2

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.


Verse 3

My sin, oh the bliss

of this glorious thought!

My sin, not in part but the whole,

Is nailed to His cross,

and I bear it no more,

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!


Verse 4

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.


It is well (it is well)

with my soul (with my soul)

It is well, it is well with my soul

The tragedy didn’t end when Horatio and Anna returned to Chicago. In 1876 they had a son and named him Horatio, but sadly he died at the age of 4 from scarlet fever. They then had two more daughters. Shortly after their last daughter was born, they moved to the Holy Land and founded a mission to serve the poor. In 1888, Horatio died of malaria.

Life is hard sometimes. Unbelievably hard.

Horatio experienced a Job-like tragedy; and exhibited a Job-like faith.

This beloved hymn, It Is Well With My Soul, declares the comforting peace of the believer. It is a real thing. It is what we hold on to.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7 NASB

When life crushes a person one of two things happen. They either blame God and turn from Him or they turn to Him and hold onto their faith in His promises. Horatio held on.

It was well with his soul.

Is it well with your soul?

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