Horatio G. Spafford: “It Is Well With My Soul”

Last September I called attention here to the Protestant Cemetery on Mount Zion, Jerusalem. Several rather famous persons associated with archaeology and others who took up residence in Jerusalem have been buried there.

There seems to be a great amount of interest in the grave of Horatio Gates Spafford, the author of the well-known hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul.” Mr. Spafford was a well-known attorney in Chicago, but decided to give up his law practice and become involved in land sales. The great Chicago fire of October, 1871, brought many losses to Spafford.

Horatio G. Spafford

Horatio G. Spafford

At the advice of a physician, Spafford decided to take his wife, Anna, and their four little daughters to Europe. Reservations were made on the French ship S. S. Ville du Havre. While awaiting departure, Mr. Spafford received word that the man who was planning to buy a large parcel of land from him had died suddenly. Spafford could not tell his wife the bad news, but told her he needed to return to Chicago to take care of business. He would come as quickly as possible on a later crossing.

On the night of November 21, 1873, a British sailing ship rammed the Ville du Havre, resulting in the loss of many lives. The four little Spafford girls were lost at sea. When Anna Spafford reached land on another ship, she sent a cable to her husband with the words “Saved Alone.”

Horatio made plans to join his wife in England. As he made his way across the Atlantic, the captain called him and Mr. Goodwin into his private cabin.

“A careful reckoning has been made,” he told them, “and I believe we are now passing the place where the Ville du Havre was wrecked.”

Spafford returned to his cabin and wrote the words to the hymn that has given comfort to many believers in Jesus.

Handwritten lyrics of "It Is Well With My Soul."

Handwritten lyrics of “It Is Well With My Soul.”

Here are the lyrics, later put to music by Phillip P. Bliss.

  1. 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.

    • Refrain:
      It is well, with my soul,
      It is well, it is well, with my soul.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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!
  6. 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.

The images I have used are from the Library of Congress exhibition about the American Colony, Jerusalem. See here.

The story I have recounted is that told by Bertha Spafford Vester, a daughter later born to the Spaffords, in her book, Our Jerusalem: An American Family in the Holy City 1881–1949.

In a post to follow I plan to show you the grave marker of Horatio Spafford and others associated with the work at the American Colony.

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7 responses to “Horatio G. Spafford: “It Is Well With My Soul”

  1. Thanks Ferrell, this is one of my favorite hymns!

  2. Reblogged this on The Gospel Defender and commented:
    One of my all time favorite hymns. With the backstory of the author it really drives home the message of the the prose that is so wonderfully linked to to its melody…

  3. Thanks for this info Ferrell. I love your blog and reading nearly everything. I have heard the story about the Spafford. Spafford had a friend in Sweden, a preacher that preached in a Swedish village called Nås. In 1896 37 people emigrated to Jerusalem and joined the American Colony. In the Swedish village this is still a dramatic story that old people still have burned into their mind even if this happened 117 years ago. An old lady we talked to at the graveyard was shaking in her body and just said “It was terrible, it was terrible”. She had a lot of old letters from Jerusalem at home. Swedish author Selma Lagerløf wrote a book about this happening and movies has also been made. This is such a fascinating story. I wrote a short story about our visit in Nås on my website, I will never forget our 75 min in this Swedish town. My website is all in Norwegian, but you can see pictures or Google translate the text.

    http://www.eyewitness.no/tunge_skyer_over_n%C3%A5s.htm

    We met one lady living in Jerusalem and daughter of one of the Swedish boys that went to The Holy Land in 1896 and joining the colony in Jerusalem with Spafford. It is a lot of things to say about this, but let me stop here.

  4. Erik, thanks for the info. I have tried to follow up on your info in my next post. I enjoyed your photos and the commentary which I read using Google translate.
    Thanks, tacticalpreacher, for re-blogging the post about Spafford.

  5. Some of your readers may be interested in the extended article I wrote on the American Colony phenomenon. It is included on Todd Bolen’s DVDs of the American Colony/Matson photographs. It is also available via my web-log, here: http://israelpalestineguide.wordpress.com/my-articles/jerusalems-american-colony-and-its-photographic-legacy/.

    Beyond Bertha Spafford Vester’s memoir and family history, “Our Jerusalem” (it was likewise my introduction to the topic), one of the more critical and objective treatments will help round out the story. Two of the best are “Anna’s House: The American Colony in Jerusalem” by Odd Karsten Tveit and “American Priestess: The Extraordinary Story of Anna Spafford and the American Colony in Jerusalem” by Jane Fletcher Geniesse.

    TOM POWERS / Jerusalem

  6. Thank you for this inspirational story. I plan to use it as part of my invitation tonight.
    — Steve Moreland

  7. Pingback: Around the Web (3/20) | InGodsImage.com

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