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.”
In November of 1873, American lawyer and professor Horatio Spafford planned to take his wife and daughters on a journey to Europe. Business pressure caused him to delay his departure but he sent his family on ahead. Their ship collided with another at sea and sank in a mere 12 minutes. Spafford’s wife was saved, his daughters lost.
Spafford left immediately for Wales, where his wife had been taken. En route, the captain of his ship told him when they were near the site of the tragedy. The words of this hymn came to Spafford while still at sea. They reveal a deep faith in the Lord and in his sovereignty. Clearly he was a man of God.
Back in the US, his painful losses continued to add up. He had already lost nearly everything in the great Chicago fire of 1856 and later lost his son. His church beheld the litany of suffering that had befallen him and, like Job’s friends, concluded he must be terrible sinner. In large part due to the feeling of being judged and excluded by his Christian brothers and sisters, Spafford and his family moved to Jerusalem, from which they never returned.
The spirit of judgment that too often characterizes our Christian fellowships is a terrible and inexcusable affront to the grace of God. How like the Pharisees – and unlike the Lord – is our tendency to condemn and exclude people in pain.
For my part, though my sin is probably greater than Spafford’s and my suffering (Stage Four cancer) is certainly less, I find myself valuing his hymn because it gives me personal encouragement. It complements beautifully Paul’s word to the Romans: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.”