Hymn Study: It Is Well with My Soul

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Horatio G. Spafford, author of “It Is Well with My Soul,” was born in North Troy, New York, on October 20, 1828. As a young man, he established a successful legal practice and enjoyed financial success.

Several months before the Chicago Fire of 1871, Spafford had invested much of his wealth in real estate, which was totally destroyed by the disaster. Instead of dwelling on their losses, Mr. and Mrs. Spafford devoted themselves to helping the survivors of the fire.

In November of 1873 the Spafford family planned a European trip, intending both to rest and to help Moody and Sankey in a revival campaign in Great Britain. Mr. Spafford was unexpectedly detained in Chicago, but his wife and four daughters began their trip as planned.

On November 22 the ship on which the Spaffords were passengers was struck by another ship and sank in twelve minutes. Several days later the survivors landed in Wales, and Mrs. Spafford sent her husband the message, “Saved alone.”

Mr. Spafford sailed shortly afterward to be with his grieving wife. It is believed that he wrote this hymn text while passing near the area where his daughters had drowned. The words of the first stanza express his personal grief: “. . . when sorrows like sea billows roll . . .”  Yet his strong faith in God enabled him to say, “It is well with my soul.”

Philip P. Bliss was deeply impressed by Spafford’s hymn text and the faith it expressed, and he soon wrote the music for it. The song was first published in Gospel Hymns No. Two, a Sankey-Bliss hymnal, in 1876.

Hymn Lyrics

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.

Refrain

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

Refrain

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!

Refrain

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

Refrain

But, Lord, ‘tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh trump of the angel! Oh voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!

Refrain

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.

Refrain

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11 Comments

  1. You are just picking THE BEST hymns, by the way. We have been talking all week about these – and I’ve even been playing them on the piano, which is huge, as I rarely make time to play! 🙂

    1. Judy Hoch says:

      Thank you, Joan–I’m glad you’re enjoying them! I didn’t realize you played the piano. How nice!

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  3. Carol Hanson says:

    If I’m not mistaken, the Spaffords lost their only son before the Chicago fire. I’m not sure why this is left out of so many narratives of his life, but I can’t help feeling that was a significant factor. The song was born out of grief, and in the Spafford’s minds, I doubt very seriously that the losses could be separated the way they are in the stories. Telling the story of the ship lost at sea is a tidier narrative, but definitely not the whole story, I don’t think… I hope you will add the rest of this story, it is definitely worth telling…

    1. Judy Hoch says:

      Interesting, Carol. I don’t believe I’ve read anything about the Spaffords’ son. I definitely need to check into that–thanks for sharing!

  4. Love this site! I am a retired woman far away from homeschooling but I love the hymns and appreciate this website thank you so much and God bless your homeschooling!

    1. Judy Hoch says:

      Thank you so much for your encouragement, Wendy! I appreciate your comment.

  5. Hi, I am enjoying looking at your information on here, and greatly appreciate finding great material like this. As a homeschool mom of 3 it gets a little over whelming at times, and I have been looking at different approaches that is geared away from the traditional schooling.
    I see above that
    Carol Hanson says:
    July 24, 2013 at 11:42 PM
    If I’m not mistaken, the Spaffords lost their only son before the Chicago fire.
    Actually it was well after the Chicago fire; He and his wife and daughters actually stayed and helped with welfare of the refugees of the fire.
    Having returned to Chicago, the Spaffords were blessed with further children, a son Horatio, and a daughter, Bertha. However, another crushing blow was dealt when little Horatio died of scarlet fever at the age of three

    1. Judy Hoch says:

      Thanks so much for sharing these details, Angela! I need to make a note of these for future revisions. I also appreciate the link to the Spafford Center, and I plan to add it to the hymn study when I get a few spare minutes. 🙂