Story Behind The Song – “It Is Well With My Soul”

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  I Thessalonians 5:16-18

It’s easy to be thankful when things in life are going well.  But when struggles invade our lives or tragedy strikes out of the blue, being thankful is most likely not our first response.

When my husband, Bill, was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2001, I was anything but thankful.  In fact I was down right angry with God.  Life was going well and we had so many plans for the future.  Now the future held a huge question mark.  This was cancer, and there was no cure.  There were only “best” and “worst” case scenarios.  He came home after spending eleven days in the hospital recovering from surgery.  Four days later, 9-11 happened. Our lives were being invaded by cancer.  Our country was being attacked by terrorists.  That night our church held a special service to pray for our country, and my husband and I sat in that service and cried because the future seemed so uncertain.  We prayed, asking God to show us His plan, to give us peace amidst all the chaos, and to help us trust in Him.


“It Is Well With My Soul” was written in 1873 by Horatio G. Spafford.  Horatio was born October 20, 1828 in New York.  He grew up to became a very successful lawyer and business man in Chicago, and was heavily invested in real estate.  He had a wonderful wife, Anna, and 5 children – 1 boy and 4 girls.  in 1871, at the height of his professional career, Horatio and Anna’s little boy died from pneumonia.  Later that same year, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed almost all of Horatio’s real estate investments.

In 1873, Horatio and his family planned a much needed vacation to Europe.  Horatio’s good friends Dwight L. Moody and Ira Sankey were conducting an evangelistic tour in Great Britain and Horatio planned to help them while his family was visiting there.  Although he had planned to travel with his family, some unexpected business came up and Horatio had to stay behind in Chicago.  He sent his wife and four girls — ages 11, 9, 7 and 2 — on ahead.  Horatio would take another ship as soon as possible, and join them in Europe.

A few days into their crossing of the Atlantic, their ship, the Ville du Harve, collided with an iron-hulled Scottish ship, the Loch Earn.  The Ville du Harve sank within 12 minutes, taking with it 226 of the passengers, including the 4 Spafford children – Tanetta, Bessie, Margaret Lee, and Annie.  Anna Spafford cabled her husband, “Saved alone.  What shall I do?”

Horatio wanted to join his grieving wife Anna as soon as possible, so he booked passage on the next available ship.  While sailing across the Atlantic, the ship’s captain summoned Horatio to the bridge, and informed him that the ship was passing over the very spot where his children had perished.  It is recorded that while alone in his cabin that night, Horatio wrote the words to this now famous 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.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has 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!

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.

It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.

Horatio and Anna returned to Chicago.  They had 3 more children, Horatio II, Bertha and Grace.  Horatio II died at four years old of scarlet fever.  Shortly after Grace was born the family of four moved to Jerusalem and set up a children’s home.  Horatio Spafford died in Jerusalem from malaria on October 16, 1888, 4 days short of his 60th birthday.


Fourteen years have passed since Bill was diagnosed with cancer. He endured a 6-month round of chemo in 2006, and since that time he has been in remission. I still remember the night that we cried and we prayed, and we gave all our anger and hurt to God. That was the turning point.  That was when Horatio’s words rang true in my life; “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.”

If you’re struggling with something …. if you’re angry at God or you’re asking Him why ….. stop.  Stop fighting Him.  Give the problem to God and let HIM handle it, and He will give you peace.

Philippians 4:6-7: “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

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