When Peace Like a River

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billow roll,
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
it is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control,
that Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
and hath shed his own blood for my soul.

He lives—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought;
my sin, not in part, but the whole,
is nailed to his cross and I bear it no more.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

Lord, hasten the day when our faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back as a scroll,
the trumpet shall sound and the Lord shall descend;
even so, it is well with my soul.

This hymn, suggested for the blog by Barb Keyser, was written by Horatio Spafford in 1873. He was a lawyer and professor of medical jurisprudence at Chicago Medical College and an active church member all his life.

This hymn has always been a favorite of mine for its beautiful poetry and the wonderful tune written for it by Philip Bliss. But I grew to love it even more knowing its story. Spafford’s wife, Anna Larssen, was ill and advised to visit a different climate. The couple, along with their four daughters, planned a trip to Europe. At the last minute Horatio Spafford stayed behind, planning to follow on another boat.

The boat that his family was on, the Ville du Havre, was hit in the Atlantic by another ship and sank. Anna was saved, but all four of their daughters drowned. Horatio Spafford wrote this hymn during his own ocean crossing, to join his grieving wife in Paris.

The hymn’s main point (made much more poetically than this) is that whatever experiences we might come across, we are not alone. My favorite line is from the second verse: “Christ hath regarded my helpless estate.” One of the most meaningful results of the great mystery of the Incarnation is, for me, that God fully and truly understands the human experience, both good and bad. God in Christ knows what it is to grieve, to feel anger and frustration, to experience joy and love. And God also understands the pain of losing a beloved child.

The hymn does not end there though—with the loss and pain. But it reminds us of the true end of Christ’s story and our story: the resurrection. Christ lives, and so too shall we live. And that is what gives the ability to say, “It is well with my soul.”

Incarnate God, in Jesus Christ you took on our humanity, shared our experiences, and bore all the breadth of human emotion. We turn to you in both celebration and heartache, joy and despair. Be with us, we pray, in the midst of all life’s journeys until we celebrate with all the saints the fullness of your resurrection. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.


One thought on “When Peace Like a River

  1. Thanks so much for writing on this hymn; I love it for the same reasons you do: the wonderful lyrics and the beautiful tune. But I didn’t know its back story, which is so sad and inspiring at the same time. If the author could say all is well with his soul under such tragic circumstances, then certainly I should be able to say the same.


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