Daily Archives: February 19, 2013

Horatio G. Spafford: “It Is Well With My Soul”

Last September I called attention here to the Protestant Cemetery on Mount Zion, Jerusalem. Several rather famous persons associated with archaeology and others who took up residence in Jerusalem have been buried there.

There seems to be a great amount of interest in the grave of Horatio Gates Spafford, the author of the well-known hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul.” Mr. Spafford was a well-known attorney in Chicago, but decided to give up his law practice and become involved in land sales. The great Chicago fire of October, 1871, brought many losses to Spafford.

Horatio G. Spafford

Horatio G. Spafford

At the advice of a physician, Spafford decided to take his wife, Anna, and their four little daughters to Europe. Reservations were made on the French ship S. S. Ville du Havre. While awaiting departure, Mr. Spafford received word that the man who was planning to buy a large parcel of land from him had died suddenly. Spafford could not tell his wife the bad news, but told her he needed to return to Chicago to take care of business. He would come as quickly as possible on a later crossing.

On the night of November 21, 1873, a British sailing ship rammed the Ville du Havre, resulting in the loss of many lives. The four little Spafford girls were lost at sea. When Anna Spafford reached land on another ship, she sent a cable to her husband with the words “Saved Alone.”

Horatio made plans to join his wife in England. As he made his way across the Atlantic, the captain called him and Mr. Goodwin into his private cabin.

“A careful reckoning has been made,” he told them, “and I believe we are now passing the place where the Ville du Havre was wrecked.”

Spafford returned to his cabin and wrote the words to the hymn that has given comfort to many believers in Jesus.

Handwritten lyrics of "It Is Well With My Soul."

Handwritten lyrics of “It Is Well With My Soul.”

Here are the lyrics, later put to music by Phillip P. Bliss.

  1. When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
    When sorrows like sea billows roll;
    Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
    It is well, it is well, with my soul.

    • Refrain:
      It is well, with my soul,
      It is well, it is well, with my soul.
  2. Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
    Let this blest assurance control,
    That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
    And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
  3. My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
    My sin, not in part but the whole,
    Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
    Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
  4. For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
    If Jordan above me shall roll,
    No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
    Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
  5. But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
    The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
    Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
    Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!
  6. And Lord, haste the day when my 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.

The images I have used are from the Library of Congress exhibition about the American Colony, Jerusalem. See here.

The story I have recounted is that told by Bertha Spafford Vester, a daughter later born to the Spaffords, in her book, Our Jerusalem: An American Family in the Holy City 1881–1949.

In a post to follow I plan to show you the grave marker of Horatio Spafford and others associated with the work at the American Colony.