This well-known hymn has a lot of meaning for our family. It has been sung at funerals on my father's side of the family (parents, two brothers and his own). In college, a friend of mine always choked up singing it at church and it became a favorite for me during that time as well.
The story of how Horatio Spafford came to write the hymn is also well-known. It was written after two major traumas in Spafford’s life. The first was the great Chicago Fire of October 1871, which ruined him financially (he had been a wealthy businessman). Shortly after, while crossing the Atlantic, all four of Spafford’s daughters died in a collision with another ship. Spafford’s wife Anna survived and sent him the now famous telegram, “Saved alone.” Several weeks later, as Spafford’s own ship passed near the spot where his daughters died, the Holy Spirit inspired these words. They speak to the eternal hope that all believers have, no matter what pain and grief befall them on earth. The tune, written by Philip P. Bliss, is named after the ship on which Spafford’s children perished, the S.S. Ville de Havre. Ironically, Bliss himself died in a tragic train wreck shortly after writing this music. (taken from cyberhymnal.org).
One of the things I have always liked about this hymn is when it is sung in four-part harmony, and the lines of the refrain are echoed. Funny thing is that as a soprano, I'm never really sure if I'm supposed to sing with the lead or with the echo.
Besides singing the first verse and refrain at the end of my dad's service, my other most-recent memory of singing this hymn was in December at the Ryman Auditorium during Andrew Peterson's "Behold the Lamb of God" concert. The entire congregation sang together, a capella, and instead of making me sad at the memory of my dad, it was encouraging to lift my voice with the hundred of other voices and know that it truly is "well with my soul."
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.Refrain:
It is well, 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 has 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 the 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.