It Is Well With My Soul
"The peace of God, which transcends all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
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."
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control,
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and has shed his own blood for my soul.
My sin - O 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!
O Lord, haste the day when the 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.
- Horatio G. Spafford, 1873
"It Is Well with My Soul" is a favorite hymn in our congregation. Its magnificent depth of sorrow and joy are so intermingled that it somehow seems appropriate to sing at any time, and yet it is uniquely comforting to the Christian who is experiencing great grief or trials. To those who know this hymn (and to those who know the closeness of God in times of grief), it is no surprise to learn that this hymn was born of intense grief and sorrow.
In 1873 the hymn writer Horatio Spafford sent his wife Anna and four daughters ahead of him on the SS VILLE DU HAVRE for a holiday in Europe. Mid-way across the Atlantic, their ship was hit by another ship, and over 200 passengers were lost at sea. All four of the Spafford girls were lost. His wife Anna was found clinging to a piece of wreckage and rescued. When she arrived in Europe, she sent the heartbreaking telegraph "Saved alone..."
Horatio Spafford wrote the stirring words of this hymn on his way across the ocean to be reunited with his wife. It is said that on passing the coordinates where his little girls were lost, he was overcome with emotion and retreated to his cabin where he penned this hymn.
This hymn is decidedly unlike the first three we have studied thus far. Rather than focusing on the great and holy attributes of God, this hymn portrays a more intimate side of God, a Christ who is acquainted with our sufferings and griefs, a Christ who will bear, and indeed, has borne every grief for us.
The hymn opens with the hymn writer nearly drowning in a sea of sorrow, and yet clinging to God's promise that, whatever his lot in this life, be it full of peace or overwhelmed in sorrow, it is well with his soul. He takes God at His word. Better yet, he lets God give him the words to say. He says, "Thou hast taught me to say," and here he picks up the first tentative refrain, "It is well, it is well with my soul."
The second stanza brings further assurance. "Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come," we have something to hold on to, an anchor of assurance. Christ Himself has "regarded my helpless estate," and - wonder of all wonders - "has shed His own blood for my soul"!!! We have an imminent God who does understand our estate and was willing to die to secure our souls. What an anchor of hope!
The third stanza takes us on to the cross. Our grief begins to subside ever so slightly as we consider what Christ has done for us. "My sin - O the bliss of this glorious thought! - my sin, not in part, but the whole..." It's too good to be true! "Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more; praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!" Our grief gives way a little more as our focus shifts to the miraculous rescue of our souls from death. Our souls rise up in praise!
Finally, the hymn ends with the brilliant image of the faith becoming sight. The writer relies on Christ alone to buoy him out of the depths of sorrow. At first just a tenuous truth, a promise that his soul is well-kept, his consideration of His Savior in stanzas two and three has given him a stronghold of faith, and in the fourth stanza that faith becomes sight as he looks forward to the second coming of our Lord. He urges the Lord to hasten that day when the "faith shall be sight." The hymn ends on the wonderful high note of our Lord Jesus' return, surrounded in radiant light as the clouds are rolled back with burst of majestic trumpet sound, and the Lord returns to seal His people once and for all.
SINGING IN HARMONY
The tune VILLE DU HAVRE to which this hymn is set was written specifically for Horatio Spafford by his good friend Philip P. Bliss a few years after the hymn was penned. Named for the fateful ship that lost the four Spafford girls, the music is so well-married to the lyrics that the two have rarely been separated. A truly masterful composition, the music builds through each stanza in wavelike progression, surging forward with more fullness and amplitude as each new wave builds upon the one before it, finally welling up into a marvelous crescendo of emotion. One can feel the hymn writer's every joy and grief throughout each verse up to the refrain. At the refrain, the soul is settled. At peace. First, a quiet peace. Then a rich and full and all-consuming joyful peace. The refrain begins in the quiet, sweet unison of a soprano strain, gently urging the other voices to join in. The other voices echo, somewhat timidly at first, and then again with more volume and depth until all the voices together fill the room in resounding accord, "It is well with my soul"!