Popular Hymn Written During Period Of Unbearable Grief

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)

I am frequently amazed at what inspired some of the most famous hymns we sing at church, funerals, and other important events in our lives. None is more surprising than why the words to “It is well with my Soul” were written. The website, www.sharefaith.com, tells the story for me today:

“Horatio Spafford (1828-1888) was a wealthy Chicago lawyer with a thriving legal practice, a beautiful home, a wife, four daughters, and a son. He was also a devout Christian and a faithful student of the Scriptures. His circle of friends included Dwight L. Moody, Ira Sankey, and various other well-known Christians of the day.

At the very height of his financial and professional success, Horatio and his wife, Anna, suffered the tragic loss of their young son. Shortly thereafter on October 8, 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed almost every real estate investment that Spafford had.

In 1873, Spafford scheduled a boat trip to Europe in order to give his wife and daughters a much needed vacation and time to recover from the tragedy. He also went to join Moody and Sankey on an evangelistic campaign in England. Spafford sent his wife and daughters ahead of him while he remained in Chicago to take care of some unexpected last minute business. Several days later, he received notice that his family’s ship had encountered a collision. All four of his daughters drowned; only his wife had survived.

With a heavy heart, Spafford boarded a boat that would take him to his grieving Anna in England. It was on this trip that he penned those now famous words, ‘When sorrow like sea billows roll; it is well, it is well with my soul’.

Philip Bliss (1838-1876), composer of many songs including ‘Hold the Fort’, ‘Let the Lower Lights be Burning’, and ‘Jesus Loves Even Me’, was so impressed with Spafford’s life and the words of his hymn that he composed a beautiful piece of music to accompany the lyrics. The song was published by Bliss and Sankey, in 1876.

For more than a century, the tragic story of one man has given hope to countless thousands who have lifted their voices to sing, ‘It Is Well With My Soul’.”

Every time I hear this song, I think of its story. I am not only impressed that God could inspire such words at a time like this, I am also impressed at the quality of this man’s faith. In that moment watching the sea roll at the very spot where his four daughters died, he had the faith to let us know that all would be well in spite of the deep grief we were experiencing. His words have ministered for over century and will continue to minister to those of us experiencing the doubts and fear that often accompanies great grief.

If you’re reading this column, then it’s highly likely you are a believer. For believers who grieve, the Bible offers these comforting words:

“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus. For we say this to you by a revelation from the Lord: We who are still alive at the Lord’s coming will certainly have no advantage over those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, HCSB)

May the Lord comfort you in whatever grief you’re experiencing, and remind you of the hope you have in Jesus Christ!

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