The Heartbreaking Story Behind “It Is Well with My Soul”
“It Is Well with My Soul” was composed by Philip Paul Bliss, with the lyrics by Horatio G. Spafford. The composer, Bliss, also wrote “More Holiness Give Me,” “Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy,” and “Should You Feel Inclined to Censure,” which are included in the current hymnbook of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
During a weekly Music & the Spoken Word broadcast, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square performed a Mack Wilberg arrangement of “It Is Well with My Soul.” The song was preceded by a beautiful spoken word message, delivered by announcer Lloyd Newell. The message focused on how life can be unpredictable and challenging, but faith and trust in God can help us to overcome hardship and tragedy. Below is a video and text of the spoken word:
It Is Well with My Soul - Spoken Word by Lloyd Newell
Life can be so unpredictable—joys and sorrows, beautiful blessings and distressing difficulties can come unexpectedly. Our life’s dreams and plans can change in an instant. We all know this to be true. So how can we find peace amid such turbulence?
Horatio Spafford knew something about life’s unexpected challenges. He was a successful attorney and real estate investor who lost a fortune in the great Chicago fire of 1871. Around the same time, his beloved four-year-old son died of scarlet fever.
Thinking a vacation would do his family some good, he sent his wife and four daughters on a ship to England, planning to join them after he finished some pressing business at home. However, while crossing the Atlantic Ocean, the ship was involved in a terrible collision and sunk. More than 200 people lost their lives, including all four of Horatio Spafford’s precious daughters. His wife, Anna, survived the tragedy. Upon arriving in England, she sent a telegram to her husband that began: “Saved alone. What shall I do?”
Horatio immediately set sail for England. At one point during his voyage, the captain of the ship, aware of the tragedy that had struck the Spafford family, summoned Horatio to tell him that they were now passing over the spot where the shipwreck had occurred.1
As Horatio thought about his daughters, words of comfort and hope filled his heart and mind. He wrote them down, and they have since become a well-beloved hymn:
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.2
Perhaps we cannot always say that everything is well in all aspects of our lives. There will always be storms to face, and sometimes there will be tragedies. But with faith in a loving God and with trust in His divine help, we can confidently say, “It is well, it is well with my soul.”
1. See Randy Petersen, Be Still My Soul: The Inspiring Stories behind 175 of the Most-Loved Hymns (1973), 153.
2. “It Is Well with My Soul,” reproduction of original manuscript, spaffordhymn.com.