Horatio G. Spafford was born in 1828 and was a Presbyterian layman from Chicago. As a young businessman he established a very successful legal practice and was also a devout Christian. Among his close friends were several evangelists including the infamous Dwight L. Moody and his companion Ira Sankey, also from Chicago.
Spafford built up a fortune, which evaporated in the wake of the great Chicago Fire of 1871. Having invested heavily in real estate along Lake Michigan’s shoreline, he lost everything overnight. In a saga reminiscent of Job, his son died a short time before his financial disaster, but for Spafford, the worst was yet to come. In the wake of all this disaster he decided that he, his wife and their four daughters needed a rest and he also wanted to go and join Moody and Sankey in one of their campaigns in Great Britain so he could experience, first hand, the great things they were doing in the Lord’s name.
Spafford planned a European trip for his family in 1873. In November of that year, due to unexpected last-minute business, he had to remain in Chicago, but sent his wife and four daughters on ahead as scheduled on the S.S. Ville du Havre. He expected to follow in a few days. On November 22 the ship was struck by the Lochearn, an English vessel, and sank in twelve minutes. Several days later the survivors landed at Cardiff Bay and Mrs. Spafford cabled her husband with the words ‘Saved alone’.
Spafford left immediately to join his wife. On the Atlantic crossing, the captain of the ship called Horatio to his cabin to tell him that they were passing over the spot where his four daughters had perished. He wrote to Rachel, his wife’s half-sister “On Thursday last we passed over the spot where she went down. But I do not think of our dear ones there. They are safe, folded, the dear lambs.” As he continued on his journey Spafford penned his great hymn, “It is well with my soul”.
Another daughter, Bertha, was born in 1878 as well as a son, Horatio, in 1880, though he later died of scarlet fever. After the birth of a further daughter Grace in 1881, Spafford and his wife moved to Jerusalem out of a deep interest in the Holy Land. There they established the American Colony, a Christian society engaged in philanthropic activities among Jews, Muslims and Christians.
For Spafford, despite the disasters that had hit him, his family and his business, he still came back to God, for as he says in the words of his hymn:
“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’”.
You can listen to this inspirational song here:
The reflections here are written by members of our congregation.