Horatio Spafford was the author of the hymn, “It Is Well.” You probably know this story, but I’ll share it anyway. Mr. Spafford wrote this hymn after experiencing devastating losses. He was financially ruined in the 1871 Great Chicago Fire. Shortly before that, his four year old son was lost to scarlet fever. And in 1873, his wife and four daughters set sail for England where he was to meet them later for a holiday. Their vessel collided with another boat, and his daughters, aged three, seven, nine, and eleven, all perished. He recieved a telegram from his wife that said simply, “Saved alone.”
Imagine your four year old son, your rambunctious, robust little boy, ravaged by sickness and lost to you. Your home and businesses burned to the ground, leaving you with nothing, and no way to provide for your family. Your four precious daughters, your sweet Daddy’s girls, all stolen by the sea, without even bodies to bury. And your wife, griefstricken, arms empty of all her children on this earth, alone, and thousands of miles away from you.
Imagine it, feel it, let it be your story for a few minutes.
See yourself, short weeks after the loss, as you sail to rejoin your wife… and the captain of your boat pulls you aside, and says, “Sir, this is the place. We are sailing over the waters where your children drowned.”
Surely, your heart clenches. You feel the breath leave your chest. You stare out over the sea, which hides the graves of your family, and you feel them. And then, after long moments of silence, you go below to your cabin. And these are the words you write:
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.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blessed assurance control,
That Christ has 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 the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
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.
Oh, the beauty and otherworldliness of such a transformation! Horatio Spafford was just a man, who loved God, who trusted Him. He knew, even in that dark hour, that God was worthy of praise. I do not think it was because he was Superman. I can’t imagine that he was able to muster up more than a mustard seed sized bit of faith. Surely his eyes welled as he penned these words, surely he felt the sting of loss. Maybe he even started out writing this as a prayer, a cry out to God. Maybe as he poured out his grief in ink, clinging to the small measure of faith that survives great tragedy– God grew that faith into unexpected praise and thanksgiving. However it happened, there is no doubt that God transformed this grieving man’s faith into a mighty, awesome anthem of praise. Mountains moved. Grief became glory. Earthly sorrows were met with supernatural peace. God did something in Horatio Spafford’s heart, something He alone could do. He made all things well.
I am moved by this story, as I am anytime I hear of someone praising God in the midst of grief. It is the most beautiful picture of faith I’ve ever seen. It encourages me, it reminds me of the power of God’s transforming grace in our lives. If, in the greatest losses in our life, we can still say, “It is well with my soul”, then we have found something Amazing, something Transforming, something utterly and absolutely Praiseworthy.
We have found Emmanuel. God with us. Prince of Peace. Everlasting, All Sufficient. Almighty, Merciful. Shepherd of his people.
We do not sail the waters of heartache alone. Horatio Spafford knew it intimitately, and so can we. Mighty is our God, who makes all things well, if we give Him but a tiny seed of faith.