It is Well With My Soul

It is Well With My Soul


In Memory of Doyle E. Price

Friday, December 12th, 1941 - Saturday, March 9th, 2019

Doyle was one of the kindest, most generous and most Christ like men I have ever known and he was like a grandfather to me. He will be sorely missed.

This is episode 52 of Recovering Faith Podcast, which means that this episode makes it one year since I started this podcast and blog. If you have been here since the beginning I want you to know that I really appreciate the continued support, and if you are new to this podcast and blog, I am glad you are here and welcome you to the Recovering Faith family. Running this podcast and blog has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done in my life, especially when someone lets me know how it has positively affected their life, and even though it costs me money and a great deal of time to do so, I think this project is worthwhile and I plan on continuing for the foreseeable future. 

I had other plans for this episode, but on Saturday I found out that one of my good friends, Doyle, passed away so I changed my mind. The topic that I had originally planned for this week will be moved to a later time. I want to dedicate this episode to Doyle’s memory. When I moved back to Missouri Doyle was one of the first friends that I made and he treated me with love and respect and even treated me like I was one of his grandchildren, and I looked at him as an adopted grandfather. Doyle was one of the kindest people that I have ever had the privilege of knowing and I am truly blessed for having known him and I am a better person because of it. I know there are a lot of other people, probably hundreds, who can say something similar. Doyle was a great man and will be missed, and I have no doubt but that he is with Jesus. 

While I was in Church today I was thinking of what we all lost with Doyle’s passing and what we gained by having him in our lives, and while I was in thought, we sang the hymn “It is well with my soul.” As we sang I reflected on the history of that song and I think it an appropriate subject for dealing with loss, so today I want to talk about the hymn “It is well with my soul” and the history behind the well known and well loved words. Most people are familiar with the song, especially those of us who were raised in a Christian home, but I want to share the words of the song before I get into the story of how the song came to be. 

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

It is well

With my soul

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 hath shed His own blood for my soul

It is well (it is well)

With my soul (with my soul)

It is well, it is well with my soul

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

It is well (it is well)

With my soul (with my soul)

It is well, it is well with my soul

It is well (it is well)

With my soul (with my soul)

It is well, it is well with my soul

To truly understand the hymn “It is Well with My Soul” one must know the story of the man who penned the lyrics, Horatio Spafford. Horatio was born on October 20th 1828 in Troy, New York to Horatio Gates Spafford and Elizabeth Clark Hewitt. Horatio Spafford was a prominent American lawyer, and he was also an elder in the Presbyterian Church, and of course, he is most famous for penning the Christian hymn, “It is Well with My Soul.” Horatio died from malaria on October 16th, 1888 in Jerusalem, four days shy of his 60th birthday. 

Haratio and Anna Spafford

Haratio and Anna Spafford

For a while Horatio had everything, a thriving business, a loving wife and a happy and healthy family, and he was the senior partner in the Spafford, Mc Daid & Wilson law firm in Chicago. Horatio even had a lot of real estate investments in the Chicago area and he and his family were close friends with the evangelist Dwight L. Moody, now famous for the Moody Bible Institute and Moody Publishers. 

Horatio and Anna Larson married on September 5th, 1861and had four children, Anna, Margaret, Elizabeth and Tanetta. The Spafford’s seemingly happy and perfect life would not be smooth sailing for long though and the family suffered their first tragedy in 1871, only ten years into the marriage. 

The Spaffords invested a substantial amount of their fortune in real estate in Chicago in the spring of 1871, but their investment literally went up in smoke later that year as much of Chicago was reduced to ashes in the Great Chicago Fire. Most of the Spafford’s sizable investment was destroyed in the fire.

The Great Chicago fire is still regarded as one of the greatest tragedies in American history, and while we will likely never know for sure how the fire started, the legend holds that the fire started when a cow kicked over a lantern in a barn and set the hay on fire. While we will probably never know the true cause of the fire, or whether or not there is any truth to the legends, we know all to well the cost of the fire. The fire started on October 8th 1871 and burned through the 10th and the fire department were only able to get the fire under control because they had some help from above when it rained on the 10th. 

It is estimated that the fire destroyed one third of the city, killed approximately 300 people and left nearly a hundred thousand homeless, with winter rapidly approaching. In the aftermath of the fire, the Spaffords worked tirelessly for two years to help the surviving victims to survive and to get their lives back together. 


The Ville du Havre

When the ship went down on November 22, 1873 226 people lost their lives, including all four of the Spafford’s children.

Two years after the fire, in late 1873, the Spaffords decided to take a much needed vacation and chose England as the destination because the reverend D.L Moody, a friend of the family,  would be preaching there that fall. Horatio was held up on business, and since he saw no reason for the entire family to delay their trip, he sent his family ahead and planned on meeting them there later. Anne Spafford took passage on the ill fated French vessel the Ville du Havre with their four daughters, eleven year old Anna, nine-year old Margaret Lee, five-year old Elizabeth, and two year old Tanetta. When researching the accident I found the following passage:

At about midnight on Nov. 22, 1873 after five days of heavy fog Capt. Marino Surmont, who is said to have been on duty the whole time, turned over the helm to the second officer and went to bed. The night is said to have been "bright and starlight" and the sea was reported as "heavy". Two hours later the bow of the Loch Earn crashed the Ville du Havre amidships causing a 30' hole in her side. 

Capt. William Robertson of the Loch Earn stated that when he first saw the Ville du Havre he realized the two ships were on a collision course and he took appropriate actions including sounding a warning with the ship's bell and porting his helm. He also stated that the Ville du Havre turned to starboard causing the ship to cross the bow of the Loch Earn and causing the collision. 

The Ville du Havre began to sink by the bow and in only 12 minutes she would slide under the waves, in those 12 minuets panic and horror ruled on the sinking ship. Passengers, terrified, became paralyzed by fear and it is said many made no attempt to save themselves. Some that made it off in a lifeboat did not make it far from the ship when the mizenmast fell over the side crushing the boat killing most and injuring the rest. The mainmast fell on the deck killing even more people, (1).

226 people died in the wreck, including all four of the Spafford’s children. Despite the fact that it was badly damaged, the Loch Earn took on the 61 surviving passengers and the 29 surviving crew members of the Ville du Havre until another ship came to the rescue. 

The four Spafford children lost when the Ville du Havre sank.

The four Spafford children lost when the Ville du Havre sank.

As my boss told me when I had to take time off to go to my step-father’s funeral a few years ago, I have reached the age where life stops giving me things and starts taking things away, and I have lost a number of family members, including several last year, but I can only imagine how a person would feel at hearing they had lost all of their children in on fell swoop. 

A few days after the horrible accident at sea, Horatio received the heart breaking telegraph from his wife that read, “saved alone . . .” I can only imagine what went through Horatio’s mind as he learned what became of his four daughters. On his way to be reunited with his grieving wife, Horatio was called by the captain to the bridge of the ship and was told that they were crossing the spot where the Ville du Havre went down. The water in the spot where the ship went down, 680 miles NW of the Azores, is three miles deep. Later that night in his cabin Horatio penned the words to the now famous hymn. 

I have spoken with many people who have no idea how Horatio could have thought that all was well with his should after suffering such a great loss, and many many people have given up faith after suffering a much lesser tragedy. It seams to be a human trait to blame God when something bad happens in our lives, but that is not what Spafford did. Tragedy and heartbreak can either strengthen our faith or destroy it, depending upon what our faith is based before the tragedy occurs. If we only trust God because we have not experienced loss than we have built our house on a sandy foundation. True faith in God is not shaken by loss as we understand that we are not promised that a life of faith will be easy. 

After loosing their four daughters, the Spaffords had three more children, a son, Horatio the 3rd and two daughters, Bertha and Grace. On February 11th, 1880 the family suffered yet another major tragedy with the death of their son, Horatio Jr. who was only four years of age. Horatio Jr. was one of the many people who fell victim to Scarlet Fever. After suffering much loss, Horatio died from Malaria four days short of his 60th birthday.  Regardless of what life threw at him, Horatio never lost his faith, and so far as I know, never blamed God for any of the bad things that happened in his life. 

There are a lot of people who falsely believe that having faith in God will make them immune to the hardships of this world and when trials inevitably come they loose their faith when they should instead be like the Spaffords who suffered great tragedy and did not let it destroy their faith. 

I think the Spaffords had the attitude of Shadrach Meshach and Abednego who refused to bow down to the golden idol that King Nebuchadnezzar had made, and knowing they would be thrown into a raging furnace if they refused, they still stood strong I their faith. 

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us[a] from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace.

-Daniel 3:16-20 (NIV)

We all know that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, or as I like to call them, the three amigos, were spared from perishing in the fire by divine intervention, but they were willing to serve God even if he failed to save them. The point of serving God is not to do so because we think he will reward us or make our lives easier, but because we love God and want to please him, regardless of the personal cost. 

Sources Cited





The Great Divorce

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