Horatio Gates Spafford. Now that’s a name. A fine and dandy name for a fine and dandy man. Do you know who he is? I do now. We sang that beloved hymn ‘It is well with my soul’ on Sunday, and I listened, really listened to those beautiful calm words, and thought to myself I need to find out more about this man.
Now I already knew that this man had written this song after facing terrible tragedy – his four daughters had just perished at sea and he wrote this song on the way to join his wife after the awful life-altering event. That part of his life seems to be well known, but I wanted to know more….what made this man tick? How could his faith be so rock solid?
I’ve done a little research and will share my thoughts thus far – but I reckon there is much, much more to learn from ‘ol Horatio.
Ok so Horatio was an American. He was a lawyer and also an investor, and lost a lot of what he had in assets in the Great Chicago Fire (1871). Two years later Horatio decided his family needed a holiday – can’t blame him really, and they chose England as their destination because…get this….he was good friends with the preacher D L Moody and he wanted to hear Moody preach in England. A ha!!! Horatio had a deep faith – helped no doubt by the company he kept. If he could call Moody a friend, and decide that out of anywhere in the world he could go, he chose to visit Moody and be a part of Moody’s’ inner circle’ I guess. Which speaks to me that Horatio kept some pretty cool company…..wise move Mr Spafford.
Anyway Horatio had some last minute business to attend to, so sent the family on ahead. His four daughters died as a result of the ship they were on being struck by another ship – but his wife survived. ‘Saved alone’ were the words on that now famous telegraph she sent to her husband once she arrived in England.
Horatio penned the words to the song while on the journey to join his wife, in England.
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.
(Refrain:) 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 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, O my soul!
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pain shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to 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.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I could say ‘It is well with my soul’, after having four kids die. I really don’t think I could say it directly after their deaths, and I wonder if I could even say it in the following months or years…..but maybe, just maybe it was something Horatio had to say. Just had to proclaim, to speak aloud what he knew to be true. To speak it into being – thus becoming easier to believe. I don’t know, but maybe, just maybe, in the process of telling himself it is well, it is well….then slowly, but surely, his nightmare turned into a situation where God was still acknowledged and still in control…..just maybe it was part of his healing process.
The story of Horatio doesn’t just end there with a great song, that is still blessing others today. O no. Horatio and his wife went on to have more children (two girls and a boy – sadly the boy died of pneumonia) and the Spaffords moved to Jerusalem, as part of the American Colony. They led a group of thirteen adults and three children to set up a Christian colony to engage in work with the Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities in Jerusalem. During and immediately after World War One the American Colony played a vital part in helping these communities by running soup kitchens, hospitals, and orphanages.
Horatio and his family didn’t just limit themselves by what they had experienced and let their heartache eat them up. No they persevered – they worked for the Lord, through the thick and thin. I doubt it was ever easy. But, by golly, I bet there was rejoicing in heaven when Horatio entered (he died of malaria and was buried in Jerusalem). Well done my good and faithful servant. And when I meet ‘ol Horatio in heaven, I’m going to thank him for his song and the fact that it really sums up the Christian walk so well.