It Is Well with My Soul
This week our church family suffered a very difficult loss as the 26-year old son of Julie Varley, Alex Bradley, was killed in a car crash.
A couple of days later Julie pulled from the wreck a photocopy of the hymn “It is Well with My Soul,” which Alex had played on the cello at his grandfather’s memorial service a few months ago. Alex had kept the music in his car.
This hymn and its lyrics have brought comfort and strength to countless individuals since it was published in 1876. But not many know the story behind the song. That story is reprinted below.
Please be in prayer for the Bradley and Varley families. They need their church family—not just now—but in the weeks, months and years to come.
May the God of all comfort embrace us, may the hope of Jesus sustain us.
With a heavy heart,
Horatio G. Spafford was a successful lawyer and business man in Chicago with a lovely family—a wife, Anna, and five children. However, they were not strangers to tears and tragedy. Their young son died with pneumonia in 1871, and in that same year, much of their business was lost in the great Chicago fire. Yet, God in his mercy and kindness allowed the business to flourish once more.
On November 21, 1873, the French ocean liner, Ville du Havre, was crossing the Atlantic from the U.S. to Europe with 313 passengers on board. Among the passengers were Mrs. Spafford and their four daughters. Although Mr. Spafford had planned to go with his family, he found it necessary to stay in Chicago to help solve an unexpected business problem. He told his wife he would join her and their children in Europe a few days later.
About four days into the crossing, the Ville du Harve collided with a powerful, iron-hulled Scottish ship, the Loch Earn. Suddenly, all of those on board were in grave danger. Anna hurriedly brought her four children to the deck. She knelt there with Annie, Margaret Lee, Bessie and Tanetta and prayed that God would spare them if that be His will, or make them willing to endure whatever awaited them. Within 12 minutes the Ville du Harve slipped beneath the dark waters of the Atlantic, carrying with it 226 of the passengers including the four Spafford children.
A sailor, rowing a small boat over the spot where the ship went down, spotted a woman floating on a piece of the wreckage. It was Anna, still alive. He pulled her into the boat and they were picked up by another large vessel which, nine days later, landed them in Cardiff, Wales. From there she wired his husband a message which began, “Saved alone, what shall I do?”
Another of the ship’s survivors, Pastor Weiss, later recalled Anna saying, “God gave me four daughters. Now they have been taken from me. Someday I will understand why.”
Mr. Spafford booked passage on the next available ship and left to join his grieving wife. With the ship about four days out, the captain called Spafford to his cabin and told him they were over the place where his children went down.
According to Bertha Spafford Vester, a daughter born after the tragedy, Spafford wrote “It Is Well with My Soul” while on this journey.
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.
Anna gave birth to three more children, one of which died at age four with dreaded pneumonia. In August 1881, the Spaffords moved to Jerusalem. Horatio Spafford is buried in that city.
And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)