Image by Thomas Allsop
Image by Thomas Allsop

Hymn History: It Is Well With My Soul

Updated: Jul 22, 2021

On both good and bad days, my go to lately has been listening to hymns. I also enjoy some contemporary Christian music, but just have a personal preference for hymns lately. There's just something about getting back to the basics. It is admittedly difficult on the hard days to put on a hymn, and on those days, sometimes, I just sit, listen, and reflect on the lyrics instead of singing along. If anyone else has been in that boat with me, then you've also experienced "Selah." "Selah" is a term found in the Psalms (the true root of worship) after some passages. "Selah" means to pause, reflect, and praise. Of course, this is contextual to meditating on Scripture, but I would argue it applies to songs of worship too. Shouldn't we be thinking about the words we are using to worship God?

Recently, I have been pondering how God gives and takes away through His Sovereignty and purpose, and how it really has nothing to do with us or our actions. This morning, I woke up with the hymn "It Is Well With My Soul" stuck in my head. I love stories and find that background and history can help us better understand literature, art, and music. Thus, today I researched the significance behind this hymn and was absolutely amazed by the faith and meaning behind this hymn.


The following is the story from https://www.staugustine.com/article/20141016/LIFESTYLE/310169936:

"Horatio G. Spafford was a successful lawyer and businessman 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 Nov. 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. His plan was to take another ship.

About four days into the crossing of the Atlantic, 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 could be His will, or to make them willing to endure whatever

awaited them. Within approximately 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 her husband a

message which began, 'Saved alone, what shall I do?' Mr. Spafford later framed the telegram and placed it

in his office.

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.

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. Mr. Spafford died and is buried in that city."


This story personifies God giving and taking away. In the midst of hardship and grief Horatio and Anna Spafford chose to honor and lean into God, finding their hope in Him. I do not know how those who do not have Christ deal with loss and despair, putting their hope in an instable world. A loss of a child is probably the worst loss one can face as a human in this life. I'm not a parent yet, but it is definitely my dream, and I cannot imagine facing that loss. Although I also cannot speak from experience on this, even miscarrying a child is worth grieving because it is the loss of a life and the loss of dreams, hope, and memories to be made with that child.


"It Is Well With My Soul" not only address tragedy but also discusses all seasons of life. Hymns: A Study on Classic Hymns (Vol. 1) by Cara Cobble Trantham (Daily Grace Co.). summarizes the application of this hymn well:

"This hymn is beautifully composed to include all the seasons of life we may find ourselves in. Peace,

loss and grief, , trials, sin and redemption, and death. We are quick to give God praise for the times of

blessedness but often wonder where God is in our tragedy. The answer is that He is there, waiting for

us to acknowledge His presence and lean into His strength and comfort. The glorious thought that

consumed the author in the middle of his despair was that Christ had nailed all his sin to the cross.

Colossians 2:14 says, '[God] having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood

against us with its demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.' This alone gives us cause to glorify God

even when we may not understand the things he allows. When life doesn't make sense, let's cling to the cross

that provides salvation that we will never be able to fathom."


I agree with this application completely. When we have people we love in life, there is no guarantee that God will not take them back sooner than we would like or that He will not remove them from our lives. It is likely that if you have an attachment, there is a fear of loss. We need to surrender that to our Lord, who is the rock we can rest upon. The best thing you can do if you love someone is to lead them to the Lord or closer to the Lord. When everything gets stripped away from us in this life, we still have atonement through the blood of Christ that reconciles us to God. His wrath has been satisfied against our sin, paving way to relationship and eternal life. Once you have Jesus as your Savior, only your own disbelief and lack of repenting from further sin can take that away from you. When you love someone, you want them to have the same relationship and walk you do with the Lord, and you know that they are taken care of when they do. If there comes a day that you part, you know that you will see them one day again in Heaven; and together, you will be in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.


Lyrics to the hymn

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.


Refrain: 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 hath regarded my helpless estate, And hath shed His own blood for 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!


For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live: If Jordan above me shall roll, No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.


But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait, The sky, not the grave, is our goal; Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord! Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!


And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight, The clouds be rolled back as a scroll; The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend, Even so, it is well with my soul.

Supporting Scripture

Psalm 29:11 (ESV): "May the Lord give strength to His people! May the Lord bless His people with peace!"


Psalm 46:1-3 (ESV): "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah."


John 16:33 (ESV): "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."

Philippians 4:7 (ESV): "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."


By: Bible and Hot Cocoa (IG: @bibleandhotcocoa)

Jules is the founder of Bible and Hot Cocoa. She is a law student with a passion for standing up for those who cannot speak for themselves, such as unborn babies, and for connecting families through adoption. In any free time, she loves to read (Victorian lit is her favorite), study theology, write, and draw or paint. Jules's favorite book of the Bible would have to be a tie among John, Psalms, and Romans (as of now), and her favorite figure besides Jesus is King David or Paul.

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