When Peace, Like a River2017-03-22T04:43:52+00:00

Hymn Story

When Peace, Like a River

Hymn lists by book of Bible

It Is Well with My Soul

Horatio Spafford (1828-1888) was quite successful—a senior partner in a Chicago law firm.  He was also a committed Christian layman who supported the ministry of Dwight L. Moody.  But he was faced with a series of tragedies that would have sunk a lesser man.

He had invested heavily in Chicago real estate, and the Great Fire of Chicago in October 1871 wiped him out financially.

Then, in 1873, he and his family were planning a visit to Europe.  He was delayed by business concerns, but sent his family ahead on the ocean liner Ville Du Havre.  Mid-ocean, their ship was struck by an English ship, the Lochearn.  The Ville Du Havre quickly sank, resulting in the deaths of 226 people—among them Stafford’s four daughters.

Spafford’s wife survived the wreck, and sent a telegram saying only “Saved alone.”

Spafford boarded a ship to join his wife in England, where the rescue vessel had taken his wife.  He asked the captain of the ship to point out the location of the wreck that had taken the lives of his daughters.  When they came to that place, he stood on deck contemplating the terrible thing that had happened to his family.  But then, sustained by his faith that his daughters were not at the bottom of the ocean, but were rather in the bosom of the Heavenly Father, we retired to his cabin where he wrote:

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.

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

(NOTE:  See below for the rest of Spafford’s story.  However, consider stopping here when retelling this story.)

But the Spaffords were to endure one more tragedy.  They had three more children.  In 1880, their son, also named Horatio, died of scarlet fever.  To compound that tragedy, their church told the Spaffords that their son’s death was God’s judgment on them for unspecified sins.

The Spaffords responded by moving to Jerusalem with a small group of like-minded people.  They founded The American Colony, which engaged in philanthropic work among the people of that region without regard to religious preferences.  They gained great favor in the region as a result of their work with hospitals, soup kitchens, and orphanages—work that continued well into the 20th century.

Spafford died of malaria in 1888, just days before his 60th birthday.  He was buried in Jerusalem.

It is tempting to think of the Spaffords as people whose lives were marked by tragedy.  It would be more appropriate to think of them as people whose lives were characterized by triumph over tragedy.
Copyright, 2015, Richard Niell Donovan