In 1873 the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Spafford took a sharp turn. Horatio Spafford was a prominent lawyer in Chicago and the husband of Anna with four young daughters, Tanetta, Bessie, Margaret, and Annie. Desiring to take his family on vacation, he planned a trip to Europe in November. Sadly, he was restrained to go due to business, so he sent off his wife and three daughters – planning on meeting them in Europe after.
At 2am on November 15th 1873, the Ville du Havre (the ship carrying Horatio’s wife and three daughters) collided with an English vessel. Within minutes the entire ship sank. 226 people drowned, including Horatio’s four daughters. His wife, Anna, was found unconscious lying on a plank of wood. She was rescued and survived.
Upon arriving in Europe, Anna sent a telegram to Horatio bearing the news. He began his journey to Europe to meet with his wife. When he travelled over the area on the Atlantic where the Ville du Havre sank, he wrote the famous hymn “It Is Well with My Soul.”
How can Horatio say “It is well with my soul”? This is a serious question. If he simply said “Oh, well, on with life!” then we’d know something wasn’t quite right. The fact is that he knows the sorrow. In the first verse of the hymn he uses a metaphor to say that his sorrows are like sea billows (large sea waves) roaring. Horatio feels a deep, deep pain.
Now, many of us have experienced pain as deep as Horatio’s. Maybe a family member or a close friend passed away. Maybe you’ve been abandoned and felt like no one cares. Or maybe you’ve experienced pain, but not as deep as Horatio’s. Maybe you’ve been bullied, disrespected, or abused. Whatever the situation/event is, we’ve all experienced pain – pain which can lead to discouragement.
So what was it that led Horatio to write “It Is Well with My Soul”? The truth of the gospel. Horatio was strengthened through the power of the gospel. The Apostle Paul in the last chapter of Romans writes, “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ…be glory forevermore…”(Romans 16:25,27). Paul says “my gospel” to distinguish the true gospel (the one he brings) rather than the multitude of false gospels that were going around at that time. This true gospel strengthens us. It’s through the preaching of Jesus Christ and His work that we are built up, encouraged, and empowered. It’s this true gospel that enabled Horatio to confidently say, “It is well with my soul.”
It’s inevitable that all of us will experience pain, confusion, discouragement, and the like throughout our lives. It’s in these times that we need strengthening. We need encouragement. We need empowering.
Go to the gospel.
Go to Jesus Christ.
He will keep you from stumbling in the dark.