In Celebration of the Anniversary of the Hymn, It is Well by Horatio Spafford
I wonder how he felt peering into the cold waters of the Atlantic, knowing weeks earlier it had swallowed all of his children.
Due to the rise of an unexpected business problem Horatio Spafford stayed behind, alone, in lieu of disappointing his wife, Anna, and their four daughters, who expected a vacation in Europe. He’d already lost so much of his wealth in the Great Fire of Chicago, he couldn’t allow anything else to slip.
I imagine he waved bon voyage to his family, as the anchors reeled in from the harbor. Anna lifted their two-year old up in her arms, so she could blow kisses to her Daddy. For a moment, he felt a pang in his heart seeing their ship move from the safety of the shore. He’d already lost a son to pneumonia. The boy’s cough still rang in his ears at times. That night his shallow breathing had rattled with the fluid that stole his air, until eventually, Horatio lay across his son’s still body, willing it to breathe.
Tragedies so great, so close together… the fire…his son…they deserved a vacation he reasoned; Anna needed this respite from it all.
The ship moved towards the setting sun, barely a spot on the water now. He stood there waving as a father would, until the ship slipped into the seam of the horizon.
On November 22, 1873, with no land in sight, an iron clipper gored the ship carrying Horatio’s precious cargo and took a mere twelve minutes to disappear into the sea. Found by a fisherman, unconscious and clinging to a wood plank, Ana survived, but their four daughters were among the 226 dead.
Soon after the horrific event, Horatio received a telegram from his Anna, “Saved alone…what shall I do?.” A few days later, he boarded a ship and sailed across the same waters to comfort his wife in England. One day at sea, the Captain called him down to his quarters to announce they were about to cross the exact spot where his daughters died. He thought Horatio would like to know. “The water is 3 miles deep,” he added.
With the weathered wood splintering under his grip, he clutched the rail, attempting for just a glimpse of their lifeless bodies, but three miles was much too deep. The sea billows rolled below, one after the other. The steady rhythm calmed his mind. He knew his girls were not there in the dark, cold sea, but rocking in the arms of their Savior.
Once the ship glided beyond the watery grave, he retreated to his cabin, sat at his desk, and scribbled the lyrics to the hymn, “It is Well With My Soul.” The words, poured out of a heavy heart, have become one of the most beloved hymns of all time.
Can you imagine losing all of your children in twelve minutes? How could Horatio write those words after losing so much? There is only one explanation—his faith in a loving God sustained him. Sometimes, you have to let go in order to let God. Sometimes the pain is so great, you can’t hold on without it prickling your spirit. God is waiting to take whatever weakens us and create something beautiful from it; through our weakness, God’s strength becomes evident.
God’s Grace Fills the Holes and Cracks:
The apostle Paul struggled with weaknesses, he described it as a thorn in his side. “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” I Cor. 12: 8-10 (ESV)
I often wonder what Paul’s thorn was and have read many theories on the subject from women to poor eyesight. Although, these are just speculations because Paul never tells us, and the truth is we don’t need to know. We all have our thorns. Thorns are the cracks that only God can fill.
The Cracks Make Us More Valuable:
Kintsugi which means “golden joinery” is the Japanese art of repairing pottery. A special lacquer mixed or dusted with gold is used to seal the pieces back together. The repaired pottery not only becomes more beautiful with its golden splinters and cracks, it also increases in value. Today, these pieces are highly prized as collectibles.
Like the once broken pottery piece, we are in need of repair. God is the golden lacquer that seals our brokenness, making us not only stronger, but a valuable participant of His eternal work on earth. The more cracks we allow God to fill, the more He is seen through us. We become His prized followers, for where we feel weak, He will make strong.
What are the cracks in your life? Have you lost a loved one? Have you been divorced? Fired? Has your purity been stolen? Have you given up hope? Do you feel inadequate? Untalented? Insecure? Whatever you may be going through, give it to God. He has some gold for that. He never runs out.
There were many cracks and splinters in Horatio’s life—a lost business, son, four daughters—and yet through it all “it was well” with his soul. I imagine myself staring into the sea, picturing my children struggling to grab onto to something, until finally they slip under the surface and release their air. Would it be well with me? Would it be well with you?
I think it’s necessary to close by reading the words scrawled by a shaking hand that sprang from a heavy heart on a hotel letterhead in 1873. It is Well by Horatio Spafford.
It is Well
“When peace like a river attendeth my way,”
“When sorrows like sea-billows roll,”
“Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to know;
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”
“Tho’ Satan should buffet, tho’ trials should come,”
“Let this blest assurance control,”
“That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,”
“And hath shed his own blood for my soul.”
“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, oh my soul.”
(This verse was added some time later.)
“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 shalt whisper Thy peace to my soul.”
You can find a copy of the original manuscript in Horatio’s handwriting at www.spaffordhymn.com.
To hear the song “It is Well,” Sounds Like Reign, performs it beautifully in a silo. You can find them here, https://youtu.be/5ovnm-gzLfs.
There have been several modern take-offs of Horatio’s original hit. For a modern version of “It is Well,” I love Kristene DiMarco and Bethel Music’s version. You can listen to it here
Scriptures taken from English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.