It Is Well With My Soul

When the man of God saw her coming, he said to Gehazi his servant, Look there is the Shunammite. Run at once to meet her and say to her, ‘Is all well with you? Is all well with your husband? Is all well with the child? And she answered, All is well. 2 Kings 4:26

It is believed that Horatio G. Spafford looked to the words All is well, spoken by the Shunammite woman in 2 Kings 4:26 as inspiration for the hymn It Is Well with My Soul. But I am getting ahead of my story.

Horatio G. Spafford, born October 20, 1828, in Troy, New York, was a prominent lawyer with large real estate holdings in 1870’s Chicago. Spafford married Anna Larsen of Stavanger, Norway on September 5, 1861. In the late 1860’s they lived in a north side suburb of Chicago with their five children. Spafford was a Presbyterian Church Elder and a dedicated Christian, enjoying the friendship of evangelical leaders such as Dwight L. Moody.

With everything going their way their faith was soon tested when their son Horatio, Jr. died of Scarlet Fever in 1870, at the age of four. They were devastated. Shortly thereafter in October 1871, the Great Chicago Fire broke out literally wiping out most of Horatio’s real estate holdings. The Spafford’s did not despair. Their home had been spared, they had their family.

God had been good. Despite their depleted finances, they used what resources they had to feed the hungry, help the homeless and care for the sick. The Spafford’s used this Great American Tragedy to show the love of Christ to those in need.

To try to put all of the tragedies of the recent past behind and with Anna’s failing health, they planned a trip to Europe where Spafford would assist Dwight Moody and Ira D. Sankey in a revival in England. They were to leave via the steamer SS Ville du Havre in November 1873, however, due to a last minute business emergency Horatio could not leave but sent Anna and their four daughters ahead planning to follow shortly thereafter.

On November 22, 1873, SS Ville du Havre was struck by a 3 Masted Iron sailing vessel in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and sank within twelve minutes. Only 81 of the 307 passengers and crew survived. Only Anna survived, all four daughters were lost.

Many of the survivors watched Anna closely, afraid that she would take her own life in her grief and despair. She later said that she heard a soft voice speaking to her “You were saved for a purpose!” She remembered something a friend had once said, “It’s easy to be grateful and good when you have so much, but take care that you are not a fair-weather friend to God.” Nine days after the shipwreck Anna landed in Cardiff, Wales, her cable to her husband read “Saved alone, What shall I do”.

Horatio immediately left Chicago to go to Anna. During the crossing the Captain of the ship informed him when they arrived at the spot where the shipwreck had occurred. Writing to Anna’s half-sister Rachel he stated, “On Thursday last we passed over the spot where she went down, in mid-ocean, the waters three miles deep. But I do not think of our dear ones there. They are safe, folded, the dear lambs”. Horatio later wrote the famous hymn It is Well with My Soul, commemorating his daughters.

In 1876 Philip Bliss (1838-1876) an American composer, singer, conductor and writer of hymns composed the melody for this great hymn. He titled the melody Ville du Havre in 1876. It was first sung in public by Mr. Bliss on November 24, 1876, before an assembly of ministers hosted by Dwight L. Moody in Chicago’s Farewell Hall.

In February 2015, Mr. Dion LeMon, Director of Music at Calvary Baptist Church, Dover, Delaware commissioned Mack Wilberg to write an arrangement for the retirement celebration of their long-time Pastor Richard M. Avant. It was to be an arrangement of Pastor Avant’s favorite hymn It Is Well With My Soul, to be performed at their Christmas Cantata presentation in December 2016. Unfortunately Pastor Avant never heard the special song arranged just for him. He died on April 1, 2016. The combined choirs of Calvary Baptist Church did perform this special arrangement in his memory on December 16th 2016.Please be with us this Sunday at 11:00am when the Chancel Choir presents this beautiful arrangement by Mack Wilberg.

Until next time….See you in the Choir Loft!


(This blog post was written by a contributor and the comments and opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church.)