It is no secret that I prefer the old hymns over much of the modern music used in churches today. Those enduring hymns were substantive, full of sound doctrine, and equivalent to a sermon set to music. Whereas so much of today’s music for worship is a mile wide and an inch deep, and maddening in its repetitions.
Of all the great hymns, my favorite has always been Horatio Spafford’s, It Is Well With My Soul.
What makes that hymn so meaningful to me is not only the song itself, but the story behind the song. If you’re unfamiliar with the origination of this song, here’s a synopsis:
- Horatio Spafford (1828 – 1888) was a lawyer living in Illinois when he lost many of his real estate investments in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. He invested in those properties in the spring of that year, only to lose most of them in the infamous October blaze.
- That same year, Horatio’s only son succumbed to Scarlet Fever, dying at only four years of age.
- Two years later, Horatio lost even more money in the financial crisis of 1873.
- Deciding to take a family trip to Europe in November of 1873, the Spafford family, including Horatio, his wife Anna, and their four remaining children (daughters Tanetta, Elizabeth, Annie, and Margaret), all booked passage on the steamship Ville du Havre. However, an unforeseen change in business plans required Horatio to stay behind, sending only his wife and daughters, who he would meet up with later.
- On November 22, 1873, as the Ville du Havre was crossing the Atlantic Ocean, it was struck by another ship, the Loch Earn. The Ville du Havre sustained too much damage to remain afloat and it sank, killing 226 people, four of which were Horatio and Anna’s daughters.
- When Horatio’s wife, who survived by clinging to floating debris, reached England, she sent her husband a telegram. It said: “Saved Alone. What shall I do?”
- Horatio promptly booked passage on a ship and headed across the Atlantic to be with his wife. At some point during the voyage, the captain of the ship informed Horatio that they were passing over the exact location where the Ville du Havre sank.
- After learning this, Horatio retired to his cabin in the ship where he penned the hymn It Is Well With My Soul which has endured for nearly a hundred and fifty years. It’s been covered by many different musical artists and the chorus has even been grafted into moderns songs.
You can listen to this profound classic here:
One of the modern songs which incorporates the chorus of Horatio’s hymn is one that I was listening to through the first month after learning of Kohen’s cancer diagnosis. Although nowhere as doctrinally meaty as Horatio’s magnum opus, this song, simply titled It Is Well, seemed to be the perfect song for the perfect moment.
With such great suffering, like we are experiencing right now with our son, this song is impossible for me to get through without shedding tears.
For those who are suffering, you will quickly recognize that this is much more than just a “pretty song.” If you’ve never heard it before, put a few minutes aside from your busy day and listen to it, cherishing the song for its beauty, its simplicity, and its reminder to “Let go, my soul, and trust in Him; the waves and wind still know His name.”
In 1902, a man was in attendance at a church in Worcester, Massachusetts when the story behind Horatio Spafford’s It Is Well With My Soul was featured. After singing the song and hearing the tragic story behind its writing, the unidentified man, who had recently suffered great financial loss, was recorded as saying:
“I will never again complain of my lot. If Spafford could write such a beautiful resignation hymn when he had lost all his children, and everything else save his wife and character, I ought surely to be thankful that my losses have been so light.”
I pray that no matter what we go through with Kohen, I am able to lift my head and my voice and emphatically proclaim that indeed, it is well with my soul.