Horatio Spafford and his wife Anna had their share of hard experiences, the aftermath of which showed their resilient spirits, particularly Horatio's, must have been rooted in something pretty special. One or two might have been sufficient to embitter the average person, but the third calamity seemed to have grown in intensity for these 40-somethings. They lost a young son to scarlet fever in 1871, but that was only the first of two earthquakes in their family’s life that year. A massive fire in Chicago nearly ruined the Spaffords, whose resulting real estate losses were overwhelming. Had he relied on his secular reputation as an attorney, Spafford might have reacted differently. But, he was also a Christian believer who had active friendships with the noted preacher Dwight Moody and the composer Ira Sankey, among others. His faith, mingled with his own grief, was reportedly what stirred him to work in the wake of these twin tragedies to help homeless Chicagoans burned out by the fire. By 1873, this 45-year old and his family needed rest, however, so they planned a European journey, in concert with an evangelism campaign that Moody and Sankey were pursuing. Spafford’s third calamity—a shipwreck at sea—cost him all four of his daughters, which he learned of remotely by his surviving wife’s telegram. While his anguish was palpable as he sailed across the Atlantic to reunite with his wife, there must have been other thoughts that were therapeutic for him on that voyage. He couldn’t throw himself into work as he did two years earlier. Instead, he turned his deep inward faith outward with the words he penned, reportedly as the ship passed near the spot of the first ship’s sinking. In short, he said ‘God has authored something that can subdue even this misery today’.
Though “It Is Well...” was one of only a few compositions by Spafford, the story of its conception compels its use by other like-believers today. What human will escape death’s sting, as it robs him of someone, even many people he loves? There may be other episodes of disappointment or more punishing incidents, like Spafford’s real estate losses. Was Spafford coaxed to wear a life preserver as his ship crossed the ocean, lest he be lost like his daughters if a disaster struck? It seems he was in contact with something that kept him afloat. Have you found something that buoyant today?