I was preparing the Media Shout scripts for this Sunday’s worship time the other day, and one of my favorite hymns is in the mix. It has been a while since we’ve sung ‘It is well.’ Our singing of it will not be the newly re-tuned version by Todd Fields, and while I wish it would be a little more peppy, I’ll take it, because this is a song that I really do like. I’m not sure when I heard the history of it and the story that is behind the words, but it is worth retelling for those of you who don’t know it. (By the way, I took details from several sources, this is a good summary.)
Horatio Spafford was a lawyer in Chicago in the 1860s and 70s. He and his family were well known and big supporters of DL Moody. In the early 1870s, his 4 year old son died of scarlet fever and most of his investment property literally burned to the ground in a fire. With all this going on in his families life, they decided to take a trip to England on one of Moody’s evangelism trips.
Spafford put his wife and four daughters on a boat in New York, and returned to Chicago for a last minute business engagement. He was to make the trip himself and join the family later. 9 days after putting his family on the boat, he received a telegram from his wife “Saved alone…”
The boat that his family was on had collided with another boat. It sank. Along with it was Horatio’s family. His wife fought for their children and her last memory was of their youngest baby being pulled away from her by the force of the water. She was able to stay afloat on a plank of wood.
Horatio Spafford boarded the next ship out of New York to join his bereaved wife. The captain told Horatio when they passed the place where the boat sank. Horatio then returned to his cabin and wrote the lyrics:
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 hath 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.
It is sad that we don’t know the history of these great songs. However, it reminds me that this was not written to become a song in some denomination’s hymn book. This was one man who was praising his God during tragedy. These words were given to him to write. Later, music was added to it. Over time, the music has changed for it. It can be sung with an organ, or an electric guitar, but either way, the core of the song is the lyrical words that were inspired by God.
At the same time, the story behind songs that are written today are just as meaningful. Let’s not fail to remember that there are boats that sink today that end up producing today’s hymns. These aren’t just youth choruses.
For example, a popular song that is being covered on many albums right now is “How He Loves,” by John Mark McMillian. The story behind this song is as equally amazing as the one behind “It is Well.” One night during a prayer meeting, a youth pastor was praying and said, “Lord, I would give my life today if it would shake the youth of the nation. ” Later that night, he died in a car accident.
John Mark McMillian, a friend of his, soon after his death, became a youth leader and then a youth pastor. Nearly three years later, McMillian wrote “How He Loves.” Not heard of it? Just check out the many versions that people have on youtube of it. http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=how+he+loves&search_type=&aq=f