Sunday, February 19, 2012

Hymn Sunday: It Is Well With My Soul

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

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.
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.

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