It Is Well With My Soul

Though satan should buffet

I normally don’t comment too much on a hymn before I give my readers a chance to sing and read it first, but I wanted to share a couple of things about this particular one.  There is one word I have never paid attention to in this song. It is the word in the second stanza “Buffet”

“Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come …” I looked up what “buffet” means and here are some of the words used to describe it: “A blow, as with the hand or fist. A violent shock or concussion. To strike, as with the hand or fist. To strike against or push repeatedly. something that strikes with telling forceWhen you see the word buffet, it’s hard not to think “all-you-can-eat.” Although the noun can refer to food set out for self-service, buffet also means “a blow, especially with the hand,” and as a verb “to strike sharply.”

The two meanings of buffet come from very different sources. Buffet the self-serve meal is drawn from the piece of furniture on which such a meal might be served, a bufet “sideboard” in eighteenth-century French, and is pronounced buh-FAY. The meaning of hitting, however, comes from the Old French word bufe “a blow” or “a puff of wind” and is spoken BUH-fit. If the wind buffets the windows of your house, it can make them rattle in their frames, and if you are buffeted by bad news, you might shake in your shoes too.

God has used this song in my life struggles  as a Christian and pilgrim on a spiritual journey. I have endured the buffeting of Satan and surely trials have come my way. Starting off very well in life, becoming a Christian at age 17 and lived to be taught in life and doctrine at the feet of  some of the best living theologians in the world. Got well to Tertiary  Education, lived faithfully the truths I learned as a young convert.  Found good employment that was fulfilling and rare among my peers at the time.  Started a family and for a moment thought all was settled and ready to chew the cud. Alas our enemy the  devil  is sprawling around looking for one to devour. Before long our paths met leaving me with an indelible mark of signs of the battlefield. Just like Simon Peter who was sifted by Satan severely, I was severely tested too. Thank God for Christ who prayed not only for Peter but for all of us too. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers- Luke 22:32. Thank God for a second chance,  I have since picked up my broken pieces, taken them to the Lord so He can make a perfect heart.  I have been to the deepest darkest, I have since known the hearts of men- reformed and otherwise- known loss of friends, abandonment, wealth and all relations with the mighty of Christendom on earth.  But all things work for good to those that qualify to be called that love the Lord. In the process, I came to identify with the hymn writer of this hymn. I see many similarities as I read through this song.

First of all, as a kid growing up in a missionary boarding secondary school, where we had no choice but to sing hymns, this was one of my least favorite hymns.  This is the kind of hymn that can be played really, really slow, and it seems to drag on forever.  And if the worship leader is not conscious, this song can be difficult to sing and boring.  But one day and many years later, I read about the writer of this song, and it really changed my view. I now sing it more enthusiastically than I ever did. In the end, I thank God for my life and my wonderful and beautiful family and the life that I live. Here is the rest of the background to this hymn.

This hymn was written by a Presbyterian Chicago lawyer, Horatio G. Spafford (1828-1888) and composed by Philip P. Bliss (1838-1876). The hymn becomes closest to heart for one undergoing grief. This deeply touching sacred hymn has long been loved by many. But the words, “When sorrows like sea billows roll … It is well with my soul”, were not written during the happiest period of Spafford’s life. On the contrary, they came from a man who had suffered almost unimaginable personal tragedy.

Horatio G. Spafford and his wife, Anna, were pretty well-known in 1860’s Chicago. And this was not just because of Horatio’s legal career and business endeavours. The Spaffords were also prominent supporters and close friends of D.L. Moody, the famous preacher. In 1870, however, things started to go wrong. The Spaffords’ only son was killed by scarlet fever at the age of four. A year later, it was fire rather than fever that struck. Horatio had invested heavily in real estate on the shores of Lake Michigan. In 1871, every one of these holdings was wiped out by the great Chicago Fire.

Aware of the toll that these disasters had taken on the family, Horatio decided to take his wife and four daughters on a holiday to England. And, not only did they need the rest — DL Moody needed the help. He was travelling around Britain on one of his great evangelistic campaigns. Horatio and Anna planned to join Moody in late 1873. And so, the Spaffords travelled to New York in November, from where they were to catch the French steamer ‘Ville de Havre’ across the Atlantic. Yet just before they set sail, a last-minute business development forced Horatio to delay. Not wanting to ruin the family holiday, Spafford persuaded his family to go as planned. He would follow on later. With this decided, Anna and her four daughters sailed East to Europe while Spafford returned West to Chicago. Just nine days later, Spafford received a telegram from his wife in Wales. It read: “Saved alone.”

On November 2nd 1873, the ‘Ville de Havre’ had collided with ‘The Lochearn’, an English vessel. It sank in only 12 minutes, claiming the lives of 226 people. Anna Spafford had stood bravely on the deck, with her daughters Annie, Maggie, Bessie and Tanetta clinging desperately to her. Her last memory had been of her baby being torn violently from her arms by the force of the waters. Anna was only saved from the fate of her daughters by a plank which floated beneath her unconscious body and propped her up. When the survivors of the wreck had been rescued, Mrs. Spafford’s first reaction was one of complete despair.

Then she heard a voice speak to her, “You were spared for a purpose.” And she immediately recalled the words of a friend, “It’s easy to be grateful and good when you have so much, but take care that you are not a fair-weather friend to God.”

Upon hearing the terrible news, Horatio Spafford boarded the next ship out of New York to join his bereaved wife. Bertha Spafford (the fifth daughter of Horatio and Anna born later) explained that during her father’s voyage, the captain of the ship had called him to the bridge. “A careful reckoning has been made”, he said, “and I believe we are now passing the place where the de Havre was wrecked. The water is three miles deep.” Horatio then returned to his cabin and penned the lyrics of his great hymn.

The words which Spafford wrote that day come from 2 Kings 4:26. They echo the response of the Shunammite woman to the sudden death of her only child. Though we are told “her soul is vexed within her”, she still maintains that ‘It is well.” And Spafford’s song reveals a man whose trust in the Lord is as unwavering as hers was.

It would be very difficult for any of us to predict how we would react under circumstances similar to those experienced by the Spaffords. But we do know that the God who sustained them would also be with us.

No matter what circumstances overtake us may we be able to say with Horatio Spafford… It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Spafford wrote the words to this hymn as a result of that experience.  As you read the first verse to “It is well with my soul”, remember where he was and what he experienced personally in his life. Note also that although the original manuscript reads “know” at the end of the third line, almost all recordings and written reproductions read “say”. You can substitute the word say for know if you will.

It Is Well With My Soul

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.

It is well, (it is well),
With my soul, (with my soul)
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, 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.

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!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life,
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul.

And 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.

There are two great lines in this hymn that are appropriate for us to concentrate on. In the second verse, the writer is reminding us that in this life, we as Christians will experience trials and sometimes feel that the devil is winning.  However, he reminds us that our thoughts ought to be controlled by these truths – (1) Christ is concerned about us, (2) He knows that we are “helpless” and cares about our situation (3) and that He “hath shed His own blood for my soul.”  These words should encourage us and remind us that we serve one who has experienced trials and temptations, has endured far greater hurt, pain, and ridicule that we will ever have to endure. Hebrews 4:15 says “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”

The third verse is very powerful also.  It means a lot to my soul. The writer has to pause in the middle of the verse and tells us what a glorious thought this is.  Our sin, not part of it, but all of it, is nailed to the Cross, and we bear it no more.  Name the sin and how great it is. It is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. No wonder he just burst out in Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord all my soul.What a glorious thought that truly is.  God didn’t forgive part of our sin.  It is sometimes easy for us to forgive someone of little things (white lies, being snubbed, or gossiped about), but He forgave the big ones too.  Although it is not easy to admit, there are probably sins that we would have a hard time forgiving people for.  We put certain “degrees” on sin, and whether we intentionally do this or not, we forgive in part.  This song reminds us that God is different – He has forgiven all of our sin, and because of that truth, we ought to practice forgiveness in our daily walk.

And 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.

I have been blessed with an abundance of girls. They are beautiful and I love them. But I imagine Horatio Spafford longed for eternity more than ever when he would be reunited with his girls again. “Haste the day.” He was still walking forward in faith, even when it was hard to see. “When my faith shall be sight.” He knew God would restore him, one glorious day.

Maybe you are going through something that has made you question God, question His goodness, question His plan. Maybe you’ve lost a child (or children) as the writer did and you are grasping to hold onto something. I can’t say, “I know how you feel,” since I haven’t been through that, but I can say you need to hold onto God. Hold onto His word, His promises and the blessed assurance that He can whisper peace into your soul.

As I close, take note also that this was a funeral song for Spafford. He does not concentrate on the tragedy that has befallen him. But his mind goes to Christ and that is what matters most. The peace that comes from God when adversity comes. The peace of knowing sin has been forgiven is greater by far than anything else on earth. Look at this great practical Scripture from Ephesians 4:32 “And be ye kind one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”  On the cross over two thousand years ago, forgiveness was on His mind.  The forgiveness of the thief hanging next to Him, the forgiveness of the one’s who put Him on the Cross, and our forgiveness as well.  Let forgiveness be a part of your daily walk and it will be “well with your soul.”

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3 Responses to It Is Well With My Soul

  1. Austin says:

    Theme: Even in Death – Whatever My Lot!
    Scripture Passages: John 14:27 – Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

    Devotion: This hymn is using a river as a metaphor for the amount of peace that one can experience in their life. Peace, like a great roaring river, can flow through your life because of a right relationship with God. Only those who have gone through deep waters and bitter trials can know the comfort and re-assurance that the Lord so lovingly gives in those hours of darkness when we cry out for his help.

    Death is the ultimate test of faith, the final frontier of our doctrine, our hymns, our liturgy, our beliefs. It may seem easy to trust in Jesus while we sit in church and sing powerful hymns and pray meaningful prayers and hear God’s redemptive message. But everything we believe about Jesus comes home when death comes to visit.

    Do you still trust Jesus even when your baby has health problems, when your child has heart problems, when your spouse has kidney problems, when your mother has cancer problems? It may be easy to trust Jesus while sitting in church, but what about trusting Him while sitting in the E.R. or the hospital bed or the funeral home? You trust Jesus, but how far? When death comes to visit, can you still sing with confidence, “It is well with my soul?”
    The answer is YES You CAN. Heartsick with grief, Mr. Spafford suddenly felt a flow of supernatural peace and comfort, as he looked to the Lord for strength. With tears of gratitude, he wrote these thrilling words: When peace like a river attendeth my way.

    In 1542, Luther wrote an introduction and commentary to a collection of burial hymns for the congregation at Wittenberg. He writes: “But we Christians, who have been redeemed from all this by the dear blood of the Son of God, should by faith train and accustom ourselves to despise death and to regard it as a deep, strong, and sweet sleep, to regard the coffin as nothing but paradise and the bosom of our Lord Christ, and the grave as nothing but a soft couch or sofa, which it really is in the sight of God; for he says, John 11, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep,’ and Matthew 9, ‘The girl is not dead but sleeping.’”

    What a blessed message of hope to a world that struggles to live through the trials and turns of this fallen world by sight. What a blessed message of encouragement to every believer who also lives through the trials and turns of this fallen world, but by faith rather than sight. As death comes calling, Jesus reminds you, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” And we respond – whether in church, in the hospital or at the cemetery – “It is well with my soul.” Amen.

    Prayer: Lord whatever my lot, teach me to say, “It is well, it is well with my soul.” – Amen.


  2. Austin says:

    Theme: Everything is all right! – Is It Well With Your Child…vs-26

    Scripture Passages: Phil. 4:7 – “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Col. 2:14 – “…having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” Isa. 34:4 – “All the stars in the sky will be dissolved and the heavens rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will all like withered leaves from the vine, like shrivelled figs from the fig tree.” 1 Cor. 15:52 – “…in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”
    Devotion: This is a hymn to be sung amidst the “Whys” of life. It is a testimony of our faith, even during tragedies and loss. It’s also a hymn of comfort, soothing the soul and reminding us of our peace in Christ. You could pair it with the hymn, “Jesus, I Come,” or other responses of faith and declarations of trust.

    Almost every hymnal keeps the original four verses and refrain unaltered. While the first stanza seems fairly autobiographical of the tragedy at sea (“when sorrows like sea billows roll”), as a whole, the text speaks to our assurance of hope in the midst of all trials. It acknowledges that both our earthly trials and spiritual sorrows are not far and removed from each other, but that through the suffering of Christ and the power of the cross, all of our own sufferings, spiritual, emotional, and physical, will one day be removed.

    Perhaps what is most startling about this text is the first line: “When peace like a river attendeth my way.” What does that mean, “peace like a river?” Some think of peace primarily as a stillness – a pause, a silence, a clarity – but that sort of peace is not the peace of rivers. There is a majestic, hushed sort of calm to rivers, but they are not silent and they are certainly not still – even the most slow flowing of rivers is going somewhere. We should stop expecting peace to look like the deaf silence that follows a midnight sleep. We should rather appreciate a different sort of peace instead – a peace that pushes forward, rich with mud, swelling and splashing and alive with the music of water meeting rock.

    Prayer: Whatever my lot, Lord teach me to say, it is well with my soul. – Amen


  3. Austin says:

    Theme: Everything is all right!
    Scripture: “Run to meet her and ask her, ‘Are you all right? Is your husband all right? Is your child all right?’” “Everything is all right,” she said. II Kings 4:26
    Devotion: (Read v8-26 again)

    Here is a woman every preacher would love. Fed – then room for rest. When Elisha asked, “What can I do for you?” Nothing! How refreshing. Example of Lk. 6:35. . .”Lend, expecting nothing in return.” No ulterior motives involved. When we give like that, God usually rewards anyway…vs-16. He gave her that for which she had given up hope! But. . .few years later, her triumph turned to tragedy. Child died. Mother goes to Elisha…vs 25-26. Three Questions: Her answer: It is well!

    Could we say that if facing such tragic circumstances? These three questions form the basis for our devotion today, and they are in the proper order:

    I. Is It Well With You?
    This is the first thing every mother needs to settle. Actually this needs to be settled in the life of every person. Think of the plane and the instructions regarding the use of oxygen mask in case of air failure. Put your must on before helping another person is what we are told to do. We must put on self first and until then only can we help a child. We can not help others until all is well with ourselves.

    We ask a question. First, is it well with your soul? (Rom 14:12) “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” You may be a super mom, a super person always taking care of needs of your children and all people, but… have you taken care of your greatest need? Are you prepared to meet God with your soul? (Heb 9:27) “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:” (Ezek 18:20) “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.”

    Be reminded that the soul who sins shall die. I’m not talking about death of body, but of soul. The Bible calls this the second death or a spiritual death. (Rev 20:14) “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.”
    If it is not well with your soul, you need Jesus. (Ezek 18:27) “Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.”


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