“Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say
It is Well
It is Well
It is Well With My Soul”
It would be on Sunday nights at the church Hymnsings in Milton when the congregation could select the songs we sang - that you heard the truth from these enduring men and women. They would share testimonies of deep substance and select a hymn for the congregation to sing in response. And as the congregation sang with all its might – it was as if we all understood the truth – as if we were right there on the road beside them.
A hymn sang frequently throughout my childhood was “It is Well.” Suffice to say this hymn remains one of my favorites to this day. It wasn’t until I was in college that I learned the history of this hymn. The hymn was written in the 1870’s by Horatio Spafford a Chicago Lawyer who after the Chicago Fire found himself in financial ruin. Horatio, his wife and four daughters were to travel to Europe in 1873. However, Horatio had to send his family ahead as he was delayed due to zoning issues as a result of Chicago fire. As his family crossed the Atlantic on the SS Ville du Havre there was a collision with a sailing ship the Loch Earn. Horatio’s wife Anna survived to find herself having to send her husband a telegram that simply said “Saved Alone” Prior to this – Anna and Horatio had also buried a four year old son in 1871. It was as Horatio crossed the Atlantic and came to the spot where his daughters perished that he penned the words to this hymn of tragedy and triumph.
In 1989, this hymn would take on special meaning for me. As a college freshman, I returned home from college for Christmas break. During that break my father had to be hospitalized. He was a diabetic and his doctor in an effort to not mince words, declared that my father had five years left to live and would never be eligible for a life saving kidney transplant. Suffice to say the next several years were filled with one medical mountain after another – congestive heart failure, diminishing eye sight, partial leg amputation and so on. Through all of this my father held to his faith with a disciplined understanding of who God is regardless of what was going on around him and to him.
My father’s faith found its roots in a church full of great teachers - men and women who had lived through the Great Depression and World War I. They taught the scripture and its enduring promises. My Father’s decision to become a Pastor came as no surprise to his Sunday School Teachers. It was during those times of trial in the 1990’s that he stood on what he was taught. He had his moments of worry - mostly grounded in his concern that his two daughters would eventually lose him too soon. At times my father would quench his worries with the words of a hymn that found its roots in the loss of four daughters.
“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.” It is interesting here how the hymn writer addresses the issue of “control.” In essence he relinquishes control and submits to the truth laid out in God’s word. Let’s take Proverbs 3 for example. We are told “My son, do not forget my teaching..keep my commands in your heart ….Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding..(Verses 1 and 5)”
It would have been so easy for Horatio and his wife to dwell on their loss and not look heavenward and move. But they seemed to grasp Philippians 3 “…but one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead…I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” Philippians 3: 13 -14. In the years to follow, Horatio and Anna had two more daughters (Bertha and Grace). They eventually moved to Jerusalem to found a group, “American Colony” whose mission was to serve to the poor.
It would be in July of 2011 that this song would embed itself further into my heart, when my dear friend Idilio slipped into heaven after a valiant battle against cancer. During his battle he said this, “For whatever the reason, I am not afraid of what is soon to come - sweet death. I am in such peace that it is almost scary. I hope and pray I am not being overly confident in myself but instead putting my hope in Christ alone. When the moment comes and I take my last breath, I am assured I will no longer see things with my earthly eyes but with my spiritual eyes…” Indeed with his last breathe (he could barely speak),surrounded by people who loved him dearly he was singing “It is well with my soul”
Sitting here today I am fully aware of the trials I and my generation have to face. ISIS/ISIL is slaughtering men, women and young children on a daily basis. Syria has been turned upside down and Ebola is consuming West Africa. Scotland is considering secession from Great Britain. The Ukraine is being picked apart and has been in a state of unrest for months as Vladimir Putin tries to reunite Mother Russia. There seems to be so much going on that I can’t seem to stay on top of it all. But, regardless of what we have yet to withstand I know this for certain “Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, It is Well, It is Well, IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL!”