The Story Behind, “It Is Well with My Soul”

The more I grow in my faith,  the more I love the old hymns. “It is well with my soul” is one of my favorites of all!

It was written by Horatio G. Spafford and published in 1873. The music is arranged by Philip P. Bliss in 1876

After suffering of the loss of his children, Spafford penned this hymn as a testimony of God’s grace even in the tragic loss in difficult times.


An Ordinary Normal Businessman and the Spafford Family

Horatio Spafford was a prosperous lawyer and a Presbyterian church elder. He was a successful attorney heavily invested in real state throughout the urban city.

Horatio was closely acquainted with Dwight Lyman Moody (the founder of the school Moody Bible Institute) and Iva Sankey. D.L. Moody is known today as one of the greatest evangelists of all times and during this time ignited revival all across American and over in Europe.

He and his wife (Anna) lived in the north side suburb of the Chicagoland area with four of their daughters. The daughters were Annie, Maggie, Bessie and Tanetta. The Spafford family hosted and sometimes supported many guests in their very home.


The Family Tragedy in the Consuming Fire and the Sinking Ship

When the great Chicago fire consumed the Windy City (Chicago) in 1871 and left the city into ashes that October. Horatio Spafford lost a great fortune of his investment.

About the same time, his only son, age 4 caught a scarlet fever and passed way. Horatio at this point was drowned with his grief with his family and his work trying to rebuild the city that has lost over 100,000 houses with people who are homeless on the streets.

Two years later in 1873, the family decided to visit the evangelistic meetings with D.L. Moody in England and to enjoy their vacation with family. However, an urgent matter arose while being in New York, Horatio decided to send his wife and the fought daughters on ahead and meet later on.

The luxurious French liner S.S. Ville du Havre took off as the family settled into the cabin aboard. That evening during the small hours, Ville du Havre collided with an iron sailing vessel Locheam and hit and sank the ship within minutes in the cold winter of November.

Within twelve minutes, the might ship vanished beneath the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The 226 fatalities were counted from that nightmare of unmeasured terror.

Anna was picked up nearly unconscious, clinging on piece of a floating spar by the crew of the Locheam, which itself was in danger of sinking. Anna was saved, but all four children had drowned. There were only 47 survivors rescued and nine days after the shipwreck the cargo sailing vessel landed in Cardiff, Wales.

Anna cabled her husband Horatio saying, “Saved Alone.”


The Birth of the Hymn “It Is Well with My Soul”

After receiving Anna’s telegram, Horatio immediately booked passage to join his wife from Chicago to bring her home.

In that cold winter night of December, en route on the Atlantic Ocean, the captain called him aside and said, “I believe we are now passing over the place where the Ville du Havre went down.”

As Horatio went over the spot to see the passing over of where his four daughters had perished, he found it hard to sleep.

He said to himself, “It is well; the will of God be done.” He later wrote this hymn, still sung today, as he passed over their watery grave.

Horatio was comforted by the presence of Christ through the good in the bad time of life. He knew that his daughters were safe, folded, and dear to the Lamb of God.


Though He Slay Me, Yet I Will Praise Him

Much like Job (Job 1:21), Horatio placed his trust in the sovereign goodness of God in the midst of suffering.

Though the current situation does not make sense, the hymn ends in an eschatological hope for the day when “faith shall be sight.”

We are to praise the Lord for His goodness, loyal love, and faithfulness.


Praise God for Who he is and thank Him for His goodness.

Reflect on the amazing grace that he has shown us in Christ.

Trust Him to be faithful to his promises.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!

Serve the LORD with gladness!

Come into his presence with singing!

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.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,

And his courts with praise!

Give thanks to him bless his name!

For the LORD is good;

His steadfast love endures forever,

And his faithfulness to all generation.

(Psalm 100:1-5).


Sometimes in this world, the current issues seem overwhelmingly troubling and we must be reminded of God’s goodness as the Psalmist has mentioned earlier here.



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