The above hymn excerpt was written after several successive traumatic events in the life of Horatio Spafford (1828-1888).
In the mid 19th century, Horatio Spafford was a prominent and successful lawyer in the Chicago area. He had a beautiful family, beautiful home, and prestigious Christian friends who included Pastor DL Moody. Spafford had it going on like a boss, so much so maybe only Job of the OT had a claim on his character.
Unfortunately, like Job, Spafford never saw the crippling punch to the soul that life was about to deal him.
The first blow was the death of his only son from pneumonia in 1870, at the young age of four. In the spring of 1871 he invested in large tracts of commercial real estate north of the growing city of Chicago. A couple months later the great Chicago Fire struck the area and left him utterly ruined financially.
His business interests were further hit by the economic downturn of 1873 at which time he had planned to travel to Europe with his family . They chose England in part because Spafford’s good friend Moody would be preaching there in the fall. In a late change of plans, he sent the family ahead while he was delayed on business. While crossing the Atlantic, the ship sank rapidly after a collision with the sea vessel, Loch Earn. All four of Spafford’s daughters died in the wreckage: eleven-year-old Anna, nine-year-old Margaret Lee, five-year-old Elizabeth, and two-year-old Tanetta.
His wife Anna survived and sent him this harrowing telegram from England,
“Saved alone . . .”
Shortly afterwards Spafford took to boat to meet his grieving wife. As he crossed over what was essentially his four daughter’s ocean tomb, he was moved to write these words:
When sorrow like sea billows roll; it is well, it is well with my soul...”
Only supernatural grace beyond human comprehension could produce such words after such an event.
And like Job, God wasn’t done with Spafford.
The Spafford’s had four more children. Shortly after the tragedy they moved to Jerusalem to start the “American Colony.” This ministry ran orphanages, hospitals, soup kitchens and more for all the people they encountered (Jews, Muslims, Christians). During the lean years of WWI the ministry helped sustain and keep whole impoverished communities alive. In 1888, four days shy of age 60, Spafford died of malaria, and was buried in Mount Zion Cemetery, Jerusalem.
I don’t presume to know what anyone is going through. And understandably, all this may sound trite in the midst of blinding anguish; but I know the God of Job and Horatio Spafford says this:
“I AM enough.”
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9)
And we may say in response to Him, as the world curses our faithfulness and heaps scorn on the God who would allow such tragedy:
“It is well.”