Horatio G. Spafford and his wife Anna were no strangers to tragedy. In 1871 their youngest child passed away from pneumonia and additionally they also lost a large percentage of their business to the great Chicago fires. However, despite their tragic loses in that year, they were resilient and rebuild the business. Unfortunately, the husband and wife were to face another tragedy only two years later.
On November 21, 1873, a French ocean liner was crossing the Atlantic Ocean whilst on route to Europe from the United States. The ship carried 313 passengers; among those passengers were Anna Spafford and her four daughters.
Several days into the voyage across the Atlantic disaster struck as the Ville du Harve collided with an iron-hulled Scottish ship, the Loch Earn. Within 12 minutes the Ville du Harve had sunk in the Atlantic, taking 226 passengers with it, among those casualties were the four Spafford girls. Miraculously, Anna Spafford survived the shipwreck as a sailor who had come to investigate the site found her floating on a piece of wreckage.
Due to some business complications, Horatio Spafford had remained in Chicago instead of joining his wife and daughters on the ship. Upon learning of the ship wreck and the fate of his daughters, Spafford booked the next passage available so he could be reunited with his grieving wife.
For a family who had lost all five of their children within three years and experienced other traumatic setbacks during that time, it would be understandable if Haratio Spafford was distraught throughout his journey. However, a daughter who was born to the Spafford’s after the events of 1873, Bertha Spafford Vester, revealed that what actually occurred on that ship was the complete opposite. For it was on this journey, when the boat was sailing over the location of the shipwreck, that Horatio G. Spafford wrote the song ‘It Is Well With My Soul’.
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It is astounding to think that Horatio G. Spafford was able to write a song about peace only days after his daughters passed away. Thus we are left with a question. How is it possible for someone who is experiencing tribulation in their life to find peace?
The Bible contains many verses which address the topics of peace and tribulation; although in answering this question the significance of what Jesus is recorded to have said in Matthew 11:28-30 cannot be overlooked.
“…28Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
– Matthew 11:28-30 (NKJV)
To understand the true meaning of these verses it is important to understand the symbolism behind the ‘yoke’. In this context a yoke was the heavy wooden harness which was fitted over an ox whenever it had to pull or carry a load. Thus a yoke is associated with hard work.
However Jesus wasn’t referring to a literal exchange of a heavy harness and load. Instead He was referring to the anxieties and anguish we face during our lives and His offer to ease our load during times of tribulation by taking on our burdens and in exchange giving us peace.
It may be difficult to comprehend how such an exchange can occur but the mindset of Horatio G. Spafford as he wrote the song “It Is Well With My Soul” shows us that it is possible.
Spafford realised that he only had a limited understanding as to why his children were victims in the ship wreck. It is not that God wanted or caused the shipwreck to occur, the cause for all hurt and suffering on Earth dates back to the events which occurred in the Garden of Eden. With this realisation Spafford trusted that God had a greater plan and would not let his suffering or story go to waste.
Thus due to his unwavering trust Spafford was able to find peace and write a song which would go on to impact many lives and leave behind a legacy of how through God it is possible to find peace in times of tribulation.
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‘…6Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.’
– Philippians 4:6-7 (NKJV)
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