Sunday, April 27, 2008

Horatio Spafford

Today was hymn Sunday at my church. We sang more hymns than usual, and we talked about some of the stories of the hymn writers. It was a special Sunday for me because I love hymns. Some of my favorites are: My Jesus I Love Thee, All Creatures of Our God and King, It is Well With My Soul, Crown Him With Many Crowns, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, O Sacred Head Now Wounded, Take My Life, Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus and O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing. (There are more, but those are a few of my favorites...)

I was reminded today of the remarkable story of Horatio Spafford. Many who read this blog have, no doubt, heard his story, but for those who haven't (and even as a reminder for those who have) here's a reminder of the two tragedies that led to his writing of the hymn. (from wikipedia)

First tragedy: The Great Chicago Fire

On October 8 1871, as Horatio and his wife Anna were grieving over the death of their son, the Great Chicago Fire swept through the city. Horatio was a prominent lawyer in Chicago and had invested heavily in the city's real estate, and the fire destroyed almost everything he owned.

Second tragedy: The wreck of the Ville Du Havre

Two years later, in 1873, Spafford decided his family should take a holiday somewhere in Europe and chose England knowing that his friend D.L. Moody would be preaching there in the fall. Delayed because of business, he sent ahead of him his family: his wife Anna, and his four remaining children, daughters Tanetta, Maggie, Annie and Bessie.

On November 21, 1873 while crossing the Atlantic on the S.S. Ville Du Havre , their ship was struck by an iron sailing vessel and two hundred and twenty six people lost their lives, including all four of Spafford's daughters. Somehow his wife, Anna, survived. On arriving in England, she sent a telegram to Spafford beginning "Saved alone."

Spafford then himself took a ship to England, going past the place where his daughters had died. According to Bertha Spafford, a daughter born after the tragedy, the hymn was written in mid-Atlantic.

The first verse is so powerful when you know the story.
Spafford writes:

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.

When I reflect on the fact that Mr. Spafford wrote those words as he stared into the very same waves that claimed the lives of his four precious daughters, I am so moved. We do well to learn the history of the hymns we love.

I know many, though certainly not all of the people who read this blog are hymn lovers. Tell me, what are your favorites? Post them in the comments!

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