IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL
Just after graduating high school I took a job at a local Christian radio station that only broadcasted teaching and preaching shows. There was no music programmed and what music we did have was only aired if the ministry on air at the time had music as part of their show. Most of the time the shows would run right up to the minute they were scheduled to end, I would then play the station ID and go right into the next show. Sometimes, however, the shows would run short and we would have to play a filler, which was mostly public service announcements (PSA’s) or community news to fill the dead time. Then, one day, it happened, the show that was airing was being played on cassette tape. Twenty minutes into their show and the tape breaks and suddenly there was dead air which is something you do not want to happen. I hurriedly played the few PSA tapes I had at hand while I attempted to repair the tape. I soon realized there was no fixing it and needed to find something to fill for the next 7 or 8 minutes.
We had a few songs nearby on the wall, that up until that day I had never paid attention to them. I grabbed the one marked 6:32, which meant it would play for six minutes and 32 seconds. I loaded it into the machine and hoped it would give me enough time so that it would end it and we could go straight into the next program. When the music began to play, it to turned out I recognized the song as one we had sung in church. The artist told a brief story of the song’s history and it forever changed the way I looked at the song. When I began my doing my research I learned there was so much more to the song that what I thought I knew. The song was called “It Is Well with My Soul.”
The song was written in 1873 by Horatio G. Spafford, a highly respected attorney in the city of Chicago. Mr. Spafford was also an elder in the Presbyterian Church. In 1871 his young son died of pneumonia and then later that same year, the Great Chicago Fire spread across the city taking much of Spafford’s fortune and property. Late in the year of 1873, The Spafford’s along with their 4 daughters planned a retreat to Europe as a vacation of sorts. Prior to their departure, Mr. Spafford was needed to attend to some important business that came up abruptly. He decided to send the family on ahead where he would meet up with them in Europe in a few days. Mrs. Spafford and the 4 daughters, Annie, Maggie, Bessie, and Tanetta departed on the ship the S. S. Ville de Havre. On November 22, 1817, after being out to sea for four days, their ship was struck by another ship, the Loch Earn, a British steamship. Of the 313 passengers and crew only 61 passengers and 26 crew survived. Mrs., Spafford, was rescued a short time later, alone. She was found clinging to debris in the water. When she arrived in Cardiff, Wales a few days later, she sent a telegram to her husband simply stating, Saved Alone.
Mr. Spafford left Chicago immediately to reunite with his wife. While crossing the ocean is was said that he was called by the captain to the stern of the ship and told that they were approaching the location of the accident. Standing over the waters where his children perished, he began to pen the words to this classic hymn.
What began as a poem aboard the ship was completed a short time later. Mr. Spafford sent his poem to his friend, Philip Bliss, an associate of D.L. Moody, who put the lyrics to music. The original lyrics were written on Brevoot House letterhead, a hotel in Chicago, Ill. The song was first published in 1878 with Bliss and Sankey titled Ville de Havre, after the doomed vessel. Several years later it was renamed, “It Is Well With my Soul.
Finally, the original hymn had a total of 6 verses, the two most commonly left out hymnals are as follows.
(5) For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live: If Jordan above me shall roll, o pang shall be mine, for in death as in life, Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
(6) 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.
Photos of the Original Text on Brevoot Letterhead. @Library of Congress
Check out the video below from the Gaither Homecoming Collection.