By 1870, Horatio Spafford was a successful Chicago lawyer with every reason to be thankful and faithful to God. A supporter of preachers Dwight L. Moody and Ira Sankey, prominent Christian evangelists formed part his circle of friends. In 1871, his four year old son died. While struggling with this personal tragedy, the Great Chicago Fire of the same year reduced the family’s property investments and financial security to ashes. To give the family time and space to recover, Horatio made plans for him, his wife and four daughters to join and encourage Moody and Sankey on one of their European preaching tours. On boarding the ship, a business emergency forced Horatio to remain in Chicago while the family went on ahead. But in mid Atlantic, the ship had collided with another ship, sinking in 12 minutes with the loss of 226 of the 307 passengers. Several days later Spafford received a telegram from his wife in Wales, Anna: “Saved Alone”; all four of their daughters were lost. Horatio immediately set off for Wales to bring his wife home. On the crossing to Wales, the ship’s captain summoned Horatio to the bridge informing him that they believe they were now passing the place where the ship was wrecked. Spafford returned to his cabin and that night wrote the words which became the hymn1.
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, 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.
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.