Man Loses Everything, Yet Survives to Write World’s Greatest Hymn

Put yourself in his shoes.  You are a very wealthy, influential person.  Everybody loves you and wants you on their team.  You lead organizations, start charities, serve regularly in ministry, and are active in your community.  You get into real estate and have multiple properties and businesses that you own.  You have a loving spouse and several adoring children.  You are, in a sense, on top of the world.

But then…NOTHING.  In just a few short weeks, all of that is gone.  Your property, your wealth, your investments – even all of your children.  Gone.

What would you do?

Photo Credit Nathan O'Nions

In a recent post, I made the comment that knowing the stories behind the hymns you sing is INCREDIBLY important. The scenario I described above really did happen.  In fact, it is the story of perhaps one of the best love hymns of all time – It Is Well With My Soul.  Here’s the story:

Horatio Spafford was very wealthy businessman and successful lawyer. He was extremely religious, working faithfully as a Sunday School teacher and volunteering his time and money at the YMCA. He was considered a fine, upstanding citizen and a good Christian. He married his sweetheart, Anna Lawson, and they had four beautiful daughters together.

But then, disaster struck…

In 1871, fire spread along the shore of Lake Michigan, burning most all of the buildings – many of which were owned by the Spafford family.  Financially ruined, Horatio Spafford took this as a sign from God that it was time for a change.

He sold what little he had left and decided to relocate his family to Israel to serve in God’s Holy Land.  Due to some last minute legal issues, Spafford sent his wife and four daughters on ahead, promising to follow shortly.

 …And then again…

On November 22, 1873, their ship the SS Ville du Havre collided with the British ship The Lochearn off the coast of Newfoundland.  The ship broke apart and many people, including all four of Horatio Spafford’s daughters, drowned.  His wife was pulled from the water unconscious and was taken to shore.  There, she sent back a quick telegram to her anxious husband:

“Saved Alone.”

When he received the news, Spafford immediately set sail to meet his wife in London.  On the way, his boat passed over the spot where his daughters had drowned. There, the grieving father gave praise to his God by writing the words “When peace like a river attendeth my way…”Horatio Spafford

The Spaffords were later blessed with three more children, but tragedy was yet to come.  Scarlet fever took their only son – crushing the family again.  Determined to continue with his plan, Spafford sold everything yet again and finally moved his family to the Holy Land where they began to work as missionaries among the Arab people.

The hymn It is Well has brought immense comfort to people all over the world who are facing intense trials.  One of the hymn’s greatest champions, Elizabeth Eliot (the widow of the missionary martyr Jim Eliot), wrote of the hymn:

“To love God, is to love His Will.  That which He gives, we receive.  That which He takes – we relinquish.”

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One thought on “Man Loses Everything, Yet Survives to Write World’s Greatest Hymn

  1. You’re so right it is important to know the stories behind the hymns. This one really got me: he still praised God when everything in his life was broken and lost. Solomon was right in Edclesiastes when he discovered that the only thing in life that is constant is God.