This week I’d like to spotlight one of the secondary characters in my novel, Horatio Spafford. His name may not ring a bell, but his song probably will. He is the writer of the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul.” He was a man who endured unbelievable tragedy by clinging to the Scriptures and to his Savior.
In my novel, The Light in Bailey’s Harbor, I bring Horatio in as a fun-loving teenager who is friends with some of the other characters. We then get to see him grow and mature into a young man who is studying law, and after his heart is broken by one of the female characters, he moves to Chicago to practice law.
Though details of his early life are filled in by my literary license, the facts of his life in Chicago are historically accurate. Though Spafford’s real estate and law businesses became profitable, he and his wife, Anna saw themselves as servants of the Lord, working closely with D.L. Moody, the great evangelist.
In 1870, the death of their only son to scarlet fever began the first in many tragedies in the Spaffords’ lives. In 1871, he lost all of his real estate investments in the Great Chicago Fire. After this, he decided to take his wife and four daughters on a trip to England, hoping to get away from the turmoil and unrest in Chicago, and also to work with D.L. Moody and Ira Sankey on one of their evangelistic crusades. The Spaffords were to board the Ville du Havre, a steamship heading toward Europe, but at the last minute, some problems came up with Mr. Spafford’s business dealings. He saw no reason to keep the entire family from enjoying their time in Europe, so he sent them on ahead, planning to join them as soon as he could.
Horatio was never able to travel on to Europe and meet his family. That night, the steamship collided with another ship and sank, killing 226 passengers, the Spafford’s four daughters among them. The Spaffords’ four daughters were among them. His wife cabled him the horrible truth, “Saved alone.”
Spafford took the next available ship, and as it sailed over the same waters his wife and children had sailed days before, he opened the Bible in his cabin and searched for some words that would comfort his soul. He told that a few moments later, there was a knock on his cabin door. The captain of the ship appeared in the doorway and informed him that a careful reckoning had been made and they believed the ship was now sailing over the exact spot where the Ville du Havre had gone down.
Spafford said he remembered thanking him and then looking back down at his Bible as the tears fell. Through his tears, a verse caught his attention. It was II Kings 4:26, the story about the Shunammite woman losing her only son, and Elijah the prophet sending a servant to run and ask her, “Is it well with thee? Is it well with thy husband? Is it well with thy child? And she answered, “It is well.”
Spafford had never before understood these words. How a woman who had lost her only son, her only heir and means to survival when she and her husband grew old, could respond in such a way, was a mystery to him. But he said, “As I gathered my coat and went outside to the rail and looked upon those churning waters where I lost my four children, the Lord gave me peace, and He breathed words into my soul that helped me understand.”
And thus the words were penned to “It Is Well With My Soul”:
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.
It is well, (it is well),
With my soul, (with my soul)
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
In my novel, Spafford’s song is the thread that binds up the spiritual wounds of many of the characters. Oh, the power of these timeless hymns. To think a hymn that is almost 150 years old could still be used to change lives today! But that’s the power of scriptural truth, isn’t it? God promises that his Word will not return void. Wherever He is, we can find rest.
May we all be able to say, even in the face of trials and unrest. “Even so, it is well with my soul.”