Embracing Grace: Glory to Live for

Day 45

Scripture: Psalm 46; 2 Kings 4; Psalm 91.

Photo Copyright © 2011, Erin Elise

We may never be called to die a martyr’s death but that does not mean we do not know suffering. Many sorts of suffering exist in the world. One of the hardest to endure is that of loss.

Horatio Gates Spafford knew suffering in the intimate sort of way no one wants to experience. Born in 1828, in North Troy, New York, he eventually developed a very successful career as a lawyer and businessman, well known in 1860s Chicago. In addition to his legal career and various business dealings, Horatio and his wife, Anna, were close friends and supporters of Dwight L. Moody. That all began to change in 1870, when their four year old son was stricken with scarlet fever and died. A year later, the great Chicago Fire consumed every one of Spafford’s real estate investments. Two years after that, the Spafford family decided it was time for a change and made plans to travel by steamer to England and help Moody in one of his evangelistic campaigns.

They traveled to New York with the intention of boarding the steamer Ville de Havre for the transatlantic journey. At the last minute, business demands forced Horatio to remain behind. He bid his wife, Anna, and their four daughters farewell and said he would join them as soon as he could. Nine days later, he received a telegram from Anna with these two words “Saved alone.”

The ship collided with the English vessel, The Lochearn, and sank within minutes, claiming the lives of 226 people, including all four of their daughters. Anna lost consciousness, but was saved by a plank which miraculously floated beneath her body, holding her head out of water until she could be rescued. Upon regaining consciousness and learning all her girls had died, she heard a voice speak “You were spared for a purpose.” At the time, she remembered what a friend had once said: “It’s easy to be grateful and good when you have so much, but take care that you are not a fair-weather friend to God.”

Though they lost yet another son (Horatio Jr.) to scarlet fever, God blessed the couple with Bertha, their fifth daughter. She later recounted her father’s journey to join his grieving wife and how, when told that his ship had reached the location of the accident, Horatio went below deck and penned the words which would one day become a famous hymn. The poem is based on 2 Kings 4:26, the story of the Shunammite woman and her reaction to the sudden death of her only child. Scripture tells us her soul was “vexed within her”, yet she said “It is well.” This poem of Spafford’s reveals a man whose heart trusted in the Lord as unwaveringly as did she:

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.

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.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with 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!

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

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.1 

Spafford spent his life endeavoring for the cause of Christ, and at the time of his death in Jerusalem on October 16, 1888, he had been suffering from malaria.

I wonder if the events of his life are what drew him to walk where Jesus walked as a way of getting closer to his Savior. Regardless his reasons for moving to Israel, they were reasons ordained by God. The American Colony in Israel that Horatio Spafford helped plant was the stepping stone for his wife’s greatest legacy which continues to this day in the Anna Spafford Memorial Children’s Hospital of Jerusalem.

Whatever my lot is in life, may I say with this godly man “It is well with my soul.”

Read: Psalm 46; 2 Kings 4; Psalm 91. Journal your private thoughts.

Father God, thank you for working through men and women who lived real lives, lives whose paths hurt to walk. I don’t know if I could always say “It is well with my soul,” but trust with You I can do all things. Thank you, for offering up your Son, Jesus, that I may have the privilege to live for You. Amen.


1Information on Horatio Gates Spafford retrieved 21 Mar 2011. http://www.biblestudycharts.com/A_Daily_Hymn.html and http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/196704/the.story.of.bertha.vester.htm

Copyright © 2011, Érin Elise

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