The hymn When Peace Like a River was born of tragedy. The lyrics were written by Horatio Spafford, a successful lawyer who lived in Chicago in the late 1800’s. His story is that of a modern-day Job. He lost extensive real estate holdings in the Chicago Fire of 1871. Just prior to that his son died of scarlet fever. He decided to take his wife and four daughters on a trip to Europe to recover. Delayed by business concerns, Spafford sent his wife and daughters ahead. During the trip their ship was struck by another and sank, taking the daughters with it. His wife was rescued, and upon arriving in Europe sent her husband a telegram reading: Saved Alone. As Spafford sailed to meet his wife, the spot where it was thought his daughters had died was pointed out to him. He then wrote the words to this hymn.
I’ve sung this song for most of my life, but it wasn’t until I learned the story behind it that I finally understood the message. When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll. We’ve all known joy in life, and have experienced burdens and sorrows, some of which we may carry with us each day. Sometimes we are blessed with days of peace and contentment, others we are called upon to bear tremendous burdens. It’s the nature of this life. Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, “It is well with my soul.” When we put our trust in God and devote ourselves to Him, circumstances don’t matter. In Him, it is always well with our soul because He never leaves or deserts us.
The apostle Paul said it this way in Philippians 4: “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content-whether well-fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me” (v. 11-13). God loves those who are His, and He provides what we need no matter our situation.
My sin-O 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! Of all the blessings we can enjoy from God’s merciful hand, this is far and away the greatest. It is the reason Jesus chose to come to earth and suffer the death he did, so we could be redeemed and reconciled with God, the power of sin broken and fellowship between God and man restored. Once given and accepted, how can we not continually praise the one who gives it?
And Lord, haste the day when the 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. Jesus left us with a promise that He would come back to get us and take us home. His coming will be a joy for those who are watching and waiting for him, but great sorrow and despair for those who are not. This earth and all of creation will be done away with in its present form. But “even so”, for those who are in Jesus Christ it is well with their souls because it is the moment they’ve anticipated all their lives.
This hymn has become personally meaningful to me. I mentioned in my very first post I have prostate cancer; have had for the past 15 years (probably longer but that’s when it was diagnosed). I’ve been scanned, radiated, androgen-deprived, and turned into a walking chemistry experiment in an attempt to get rid of it. But it’s never been completely eliminated, nor will it ever be. I’m back on the medications in an attempt to slow it down, but my lab results done every three months haven’t shown much slowing so far. I don’t like to talk about it, because this isn’t about me, it’s about God at work through me to accomplish His purposes in spite of my weakness. I still get up every morning and thank God for another sunrise and another day. Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, “It is well with my soul”.
As with many of the hymns we sing, we are familiar with only a few of the verses. Spafford wrote several more than we traditionally sing. Here is his hymn in its entirety.
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, 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 hath 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!
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.
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!
And Lord, haste the day when the 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.
If you are not in Christ, I pray you will come to Him, obey His call and surrender your will to Him as Lord, so that it may be ‘well with your soul’.