“It Is Well With My Soul” – Horatio Spafford and a Christian family’s Job-like faith

By the Spring of 1871, a successful lawyer and senior partner in a large law firm Horatio Spafford had begun investing in real estate all over north Chicago. A consuming smoke would grow over the fiery success Spafford was experiencing, bringing unforeseen circumstances that led to Spafford’s infamy.

Spafford, a lawyer, became a senior partner in a large law firm. He was living in his success with his Norwegian bride Anna and their five children and began investing in real estate. While flourishing in the real estate market, Spafford and his family also became very active in their church becoming supporters and friends of American evangelist Dwight L. Moody.

Like tragic figures from a Biblical story, tragedy struck the Spafford family when their son, Horatrio Jr, died of scarlet fever. Though grief-stricken, Spafford flourished in real estate until the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The fire killed approximately 300 people and destroyed around 3.3 square miles of the city. Most of Spafford’s real estate investments were amongst the 17,000+ structures destroyed in the fire. The Spaffords, even when met with substantial financial loss, were a living embodiment of Christ. They assisted the grief-stricken and in-need people of their city with open arms.

After two years, the family was still grieving the death of Horatio Jr and living in the aftermath of the devastating fire that destroyed downtown Chicago; Spafford decided that his family should go on a holiday to England. They would visit with Moody, who would be preaching there. Spafford sent his wife and daughters on to England while he finished some business. On November 22nd, 1873, on a steamship crossing the Atlantic, tragedy struck once more when the Ville du Havre struck an iron sailing ship.

Two hundred and twenty-six people died in the cold waters of the Atlantic. An unconscious Anna Spafford, found floating amongst the wreckage on a wood plank, was the only family member to live. All four of the Spafford children had drowned.

After arriving in Cardiff (a town in Southern Wales), Anna sent a telegram to her husband informing him of the terrible news. Upon receiving the message, he left to meet up with his wife. During the trip across the Atlantic, the captain asked him to join him on the bridge. The captain explained to Spafford that they were passing the very spot where the Ville du Havre had sunk and the spot where his children had died. His Job-like faith had not faltered. Evident in a letter he wrote to Anna’s half-sister, “On Thursday last, we passed over the spot where she went down, in mid-ocean, the waters three miles deep. But I do not think of our dear ones there. They are safe…dear lambs.” When Spafford returned to his cabin aboard the ship, he sat down and was inspired to write. The piece began with:

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

He sat in that cabin and wrote the original four verses and chorus to the Christian hymn “It Is Well With My Soul.”

The music for the hymn was written by Philip Bliss and was named Ville Du Havre after the boat that crashed causing the death of the Spafford children.

After returning home, Anna and Horatio kept their faith even after the death of yet another child. Years later they and other like-minded Christians decided to move to Jerusalem, where they served the homeless, needy, and sick. Even after Horatio died of malaria just seven years after moving to Jerusalem, Anna continued working in and for the needy in the community until her death 35 years after Horatio passed. Their Job-like faith is an honorable testimony to their love and devotion to their faith. We can be sure they lived their lives knowing it was ‘well with their soul.’


Featured Image: Horatio Spafford by Unknown author - Unknown source, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4139112
Horatio Spafford business card. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (4b) //www.loc.gov/exhibits/americancolony/images/ac0004bs.jpg
Horatio Spafford. Carte-de-visite, ca. 1873. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (7b)
Anna Spafford by Bertha Spafford Vester - "Our Jerusalem" Published in Lebanon, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7353554
Currier & Ives. Sinking of the Steamship Ville du Havre. New York: Currier & Ives, ca. 1873. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress 
Anna Spafford. Transatlantic cable message, December 1, 1873. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress 
It is Well with my soul Sheet Music, Find Songs & Hymns - songsandhymns.org/…/it-is-well-with-my-soul, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10987432

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