Horatio Spafford was a well-known lawyer in Chicago in the mid 1800s. He was the husband of Anna, and together they were the proud parents of one son and four daughters. Well respected among the business community, Horatio took advantage of his knowledge and experience and built for his family a comfortable lifestyle. Having established relationships around the world, one of his closest friends was none other than a well-known pastor in England by the name of D.L. Moody. Life was going well for the Spafford family.
Things began to change, however, in 1860. Stricken with Scarlet Fever, Horatio’s only son lost this battle with the disease and eventually his life. Horatio and Anna were devastated. Within a year of their son’s death, the great Chicago fire occurred and wiped out all of the Spafford’s real estate holdings along the lakeshore. Their life had been turned upside down in a very short amount of time. Hearing of the incredible misfortune of the Spafford family, D.L. Moody invited them to join him in England for one of his many crusades. It was meant to be a time of escape from the trials they had been facing, and also a time for Rev. Moody to have a friend to help him in his ministry. The Spaffords accepted the invitation and off they went to England.
Arriving in New York, just prior to boarding the ship that would take them across the Atlantic, Horatio received a telegram from a partner back in Chicago regarding a promising business deal. Considering their loss and the promise of a future partnership, Horatio and Anna agreed to head in different directions, with the agreement that he would join the family in a few days in England. Anna and the girls headed to sea, and Horatio went home to Chicago.
Nine days later, Horatio received a telegram from Anna with two words on it: “Saved. Alone.”
He soon discovered that while the vessel carrying his family to England was en route, it collided with an English vessel, resulting in death of 226 passengers, including all four of his daughters. Anna was one of only a few that survived and was rescued. Frantically, Horatio made his way to the port in New York to board the next ship headed to Europe.
Safely aboard, Horatio pleaded with the captain to notify him when the ship was in close proximity of where his daughters, along with the many others, perished in the fiery collision days earlier. The call came soon afterwards from the captain, alerting Horatio that they had indeed arrived at the site of the accident. Horatio stepped to the bow and cried out to God in anguish over his great loss. In that moment, God’s spirit comforted Horatio and provided him peace that went beyond explanation.
Returning to his cabin, Horatio took out a pen and paper and wrote the words to a famous hymn that many of us sing today as we gather for worship on Sundays. His words, which seemingly go beyond our own comprehension, say this:
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 blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
The famous hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul,” was a cry of both utter despair, and yet complete comfort in the fact that even in the midst of great trials, we can find peace in the depths of our soul when Christ is in control. It reminds us of the words of Paul in I Thessalonians 4:16-18 where he says, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Life is difficult at times and it can be hard to live with an attitude of thanksgiving. My prayer for all of us in this difficult season on uncertainty is that our thankfulness will resonate louder in our minds than any anxiety, flow more freely from our lips than complaints, and return quicker to God than our wants or our wishes.
Know that the LORD, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
5 For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations. –Psalm 100