If you've received our Contentment themed box of encouragement®, you've found the the words from Horatio Spafford's poem "It Is Well" printed on the bookmark enclosed. Horatio Spafford was a prominent lawyer who lived in Chicago in the 1800s. He was a Christian and friend to the evangelist Dwight L. Moody.
Watch this short video that explains why he wrote the poem that became the song that has encouraged so many.
Can you imagine being in this situation? Your family is off on a trip somewhere, you're at home and you get a telegram that says "Saved Alone."
Anna Spafford. Transatlantic cable message, December 1st, 1873. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.
To understand the depth of the crisis this would have been, consider that this was 1873. His wife Anna couldn't call or text or email him to let him know immediately what had happened. He couldn't just jump on a plane and get to her. She is alone in England, all her children have died and she has to send him a telegram. This is a picture of her actual telegram. She had to wait for him to receive it back in Chicago and wait for him to send one back. He has to then make arrangements to get on a boat and sail to get to where she is! It probably took weeks for them to communicate back and forth and for him to be able to get to her via boat.
Even in his pain, he still praised God through the writing of his poem, "It Is Well", during that long boat ride to get to his wife. You can see the actual scrap of hotel paper he wrote the poem on here in the archives at the Library of Congress. In the words of the poem, you can hear his pain, especially in lyrics like "when sorrows like sea billows roll." Anyone who has been to the ocean knows what sea billows (waves) look like as they hit the shore. We know they don't stop. If you sit at the shoreline all day, the waves don't ever stop. Sometimes they are big, some are small, some are calm and some come crashing in, but they come in a continuous succession. Like Job in the Bible and his continuous succession of tragedies, Horatio Spafford is expressing that same feeling of feeling like sorrow is just continuously washing over him. Have you felt like that? The amazing part of his story is what he did with his pain.
He absolutely had moments of despair, but ultimately, he wrote a poem of submission to the will of God, that restored his peace. This poem later became a well known, beloved hymn, when Philip Bass, a composer created a piece of music to accompany the lyrics in 1876.
Horatio's poem expresses an unwavering trust in God's Will, no matter what. He says "Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul." He reaffirms that God is in control in verse 2 by saying that although satan may test him and trials may come, he has assurance that God is in control and he's thankful that He shed His blood for his soul.
I know we've all heard this song a million times, but I know for me personally, it means so much more and gives me so much comfort now that I know the story behind the words. It was written out of a real experience that someone went through. When he was on that boat, pouring out his feelings, Horatio Spafford couldn't have known how his personal expression of surrender and submission to God's Will would encourage and help restore so many others who would experience hardships and tragedies generations later. God had a purpose even in the extreme pain he allowed Horatio and Anna Spafford to experience.
My favorite version of this song is by Jimmy Needham. When I'm going through I can literally listen to it on repeat for hours. Even if I'm in tears, it brings me great peace. It reminds me that God knows my pain, just as He knows yours and that there is a greater purpose in it. No matter what you've been through or find yourself going through right now, BE ENCOURAGED. Glorify Him and God will restore your contentment.
Have you ever wondered how something in your life could be "well with your soul?" If so, watch this video recorded by the Desiring God team to hear Jimmy sing this beloved hymn and to hear John Piper share they hymns' authors, Horatio Spafford's, story.
Jamila is the founder of loved+blessed. On her personal mission to leave a legacy of encouragement, she blogs about her own life lessons with the hope that it will bring joy into others’ lives and help them find the courage to keep walking in faith knowing that all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord. Read her testimony of how God turned her misery into ministry.