Hymn: a song of praise to God. It seems simple, but have you ever read the stories behind the beloved lyrics of your favorite classic hymns?
Each month in 2022 we are sharing the story behind one of our favorite classic hymns. We hope these stories will encourage you and help you worship, just like the hymnist, amid hurt, hope, fear, thanksgiving, joy, or loss.
This month we’re sharing the story behind When peace, like a river.
An event of great tragedy is associated with the writing of this hymn. Its author, Horatio G. Spafford, was a Chicago lawyer and the respected friend of prominent evangelists such as Moody, Sankey, and Bliss. In 1873, Spafford, his wife, and their four daughters were advised by their family doctor to take a European holiday, primarily to improve the state of Mrs. Stafford’s health. Unexpected business matters forced Spafford to postpone his departure, but his wife and daughters sailed as scheduled on the S.S. Ville du Havre in November, 1873. An English sailing vessel, the Lochearn, collided with the ship on November 22. The Ville du Havre sank in a matter of minutes. The daughters were lost, but Mrs. Spafford was rescued. On December 1, when the survivors had been brought to Cardiff in Wales, Mrs. Spafford sent the message “Saved alone.” Spafford wrote the words of this hymn as the ship taking him to meet his wife neared the spot of the tragedy.
This hymn and its tune was first included in a Southern Baptist collection in the Baptist hymnal and Tune Book (Nashville, 1904, No.253)
1 When peace like a river attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”
Refrain (may be sung after final stanza only):
It is well with my soul;
it is well, it is well with my soul.
2 Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control:
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and has shed his own blood for my soul. Refrain
3 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! Refrain
4 O 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. Refrain
This story was included in Handbook to The Baptist Hymnal.