It Is Well With My Soul

By Sarah Shuey

Life throws all sorts of twists and turns at us on a daily basis. There are so many catch phrases that we hear to help us “cope” with such circumstances. “When life throws you lemons, make lemonade.” “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” How hard is it, though, to say, “It is well with my soul”?

We will return to that shortly. First, however, I have to let my music nerd show so bear with me. When a composer writes the melody and subsequent harmony to go along with lyrics for a hymn, they assign it what we know as a “hymn tune” or a “hymn song”. For example, the well-known hymn “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” uses the hymn tune “HYMN TO JOY”. You will notice the hymn “Christ is Risen! Shout Hosanna!” uses the same hymn tune. Same with “I Sing the Mighty Power of God” – that same hymn tune (“ELLACOMBE”) appears in the hymn “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna”. Okay, I promise I have a point. You will see!

Horatio Spafford wrote what is now one of the most famous and well-known hymns of the Christian faith:
It is well with my soul

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

It is well (it is well),
With my soul (with my soul),
It is well, it is well with my soul.

The early 1870s were not kind to the Spafford family. As an attorney heavily involved in real estate, the Great Chicago Fire was devastating. They recovered and rebuilt. A few years later, the Spafford family decided to take a European family vacation. Last minute business matters held Horatio back but he sent his wife and four daughters on ahead of him with the promise of joining them soon thereafter. Tragically, on the night of November 22nd, 1873, the Ville Du Havre sank with only 47 survivors. Horatio received a telegram from his wife saying “Saved Alone”. It is believed that as he was passing over the spot where the Ville Du Havre sank on his way to join his wife, Horatio penned the words “when sorrows like sea billows roll”. What an amazing testimony of Christian faith that, in the midst of so much sorrow and loss, Spafford was able to say with such conviction, “It is well with my soul”! How often do we approach situations with such confidence and hope? What would our outlook on life, hope, and the future look life if we held such a statement close to our hearts? It is well with my soul. Such profound words from such heartache.

Look at the last verse:

And Lord haste the day, when my 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.

Every time I sing that verse, I cannot help but smile with tears in my eyes. On that day, our faith shall be sight. We will see the Lord and will receive the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls! Amen!

Remember that hymn tune I talked about? Hymn writer Philip Bliss was so moved by Spafford’s story and lyrics, he composed the melody to go along with those profound yet simple words. Do you know what he chose as the title for the melody? VILLE DU HAVRE.

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