Horatio Spafford lived from 1828 to 1888. He was a successful Chicago attorney and real estate investor, as well as a member of the Presbyterian Church, a husband and the father of four daughters–Tanetta, Maggie, Annie and Bessie. Their lives had gone along very smoothly until 1871 when the great Chicago fire wiped out the family’s extensive real estate holdings.
Looking to get away and lift everyone’s spirits, he decided to take them to Europe for a vacation; however, a last minute business crisis delayed his departure. But he sent his family on ahead with the plan to meet them at some later date.
Halfway across the Atlantic Ocean, the S.S. Ville du Harve was struck by an English vessel and sank within only 12 minutes. All four Spafford daughters were lost, leaving only his wife as one of only a few survivors.
Horatio stood hour after hour on the deck of the ship which was taking him to join his grieving wife in Cardiff, Wales. At about the place where his daughters had drowned, he received inner peace and comfort from his loving, merciful God, and he was able to write: “When sorrows like sea billows rolls, . . .it is well with my soul.”
As I read the account of how this hymn came about, two Scriptures came to mind. The first is a part of Isaiah’s prophesy of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. . . .Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried.” Isaiah 53:3-4 (NASB)
The second is a description of the resurrected Jesus in whom we can place our faith.
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with out weaknesses, but one who has been tempted (or tested) in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16 (NASB)
Whenever I am facing a trial or a crisis, I try to remember to ask myself three questions: Is God still sovereign? Is Jesus still Lord? Is the Holy Spirit still at work in my life? As long as I can answer, “Yes!” to those three questions, I know that it is well with my soul.