"The Sinking of the Streamship Ville du Havre"
Today, as a Nation, we face many difficulties. How we react to these challenges and the chance that economic desolation, perhaps even heartbreak and ruin, will visit us is a true indication of our character - they way we really are when we're all alone.
God works in mysterious ways. Sometimes He whispers so lightly that we would fain ignore it for the everyday distractions of life. Other times He thunders and we wonder how indeed can He love us when our lives are in such turmoil.
We live in a fallen world where God's laws are followed to the letter only by inanimate objects that are prisoner to the laws of physics and chemistry. Those creatures who are fortunate enough to possess will and self determination, such as Man, are another story. We blame God for the inhumanity and excesses of others; we shake our fists at the natural disasters that accompany a sinful world. Yet there are those who leave a peaceful, calm wake in their path as they travel through life. One such man is Horatio Spafford.
Horatio Gates Spafford was born in Troy, New York, on October 20, 1828. He became a successful, wealthy lawyer in Chicago. In 1861 at age 33 he married Anna Larsen. Ten years later in 1871 he lost almost everything he owned in the Great Chicago Fire. Two years later he decided to vacation in England with his family. Business concerns kept him in Chicago and he sent his family on ahead, planning to join them in England as soon as possible. On November 22, 1873, their vessel, the Ville du Havre, was struck by another ship and sank, killing 226 passengers. All four of Spafford's daughters drowned. Spafford took the next ship to England to join his wife.
Bertha Spafford (the fifth daughter of Horatio and Anna, born later; see below) would later recount that during her father's voyage, the captain of the ship had called him to the bridge. "A careful reckoning has been made", he said, "and I believe we are now passing the place where the Ville du Havre was wrecked. The water is three miles deep." That night in his cabin, Horatio Spafford wrote the great hymn declaring the comforting peace of the believer, "It Is Well With My Soul."In the midst of his grief and sorrow but yet buoyed by his faith, Spafford wrote a hymn that has granted solace to millions of men and women who agonize over loss.
His lyrics may well have been inspired by a Biblical verse found in II Kings 4:26: Of an unnamed Shunammite woman whose adult only son had died, the verse reads, "Run now, I pray thee, to meet her, and say unto her, Is it well with thee? Is it well with thy husband? Is it well with the child? And she answered, It is well."
Spafford and his family moved to Jerusalem in 1881 and founded a Christian outreach in this ancient city for Jews and Muslims. His wife had three more children; his only son died in his infancy. Spafford suffered a mental breakdown and died in Jerusalem in 1888.
It's not that we should seek suffering, it comes our way as a moth is drawn to the flame. It's how we react to it. Our hope is in a Risen Christ, this hope changes our lives so that we live to please Him. No matter what the circumstance, our position is assured. This is the source of Spafford's peace. Not that he didn't grieve for his daughters; Christ wept for Lazarus. No, our grief abates and we live on knowing that we shall meet them again and never suffer another separation.
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
(Refrain:) It is well (it is well),
with my soul (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 His cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O 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.