An Eternal Perspective Through Suffering (As Seen in the Life of Horatio Spafford)

For centuries, It Is Well With My Soul has been used to lift the downtrodden soul to the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

The hymn is a standing favorite and go-to for many in the midst of crisis and, according to 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, it was writer Horatio Spafford’s own agony that equipped him to minister so directly to others in theirs.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Anna and Horatio Spafford.


Born in 1828 in Troy, New York, Spafford later settled in Chicago where he met and married his wife, Anna. In the late 1860s, Spafford was a prominent attorney who acquired substantial wealth through real estate investments along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Those investments, however, turned to ash during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, resulting in significant financial loss for the Spaffords.

Two years later, the business and investments were reestablished and Spafford planned for his family a European holiday to coincide with their friend D. L. Moody’s speaking engagement in France. At the last minute, Spafford was detained on business so he sent his wife Anna and their four small daughters ahead to Paris aboard the French luxury liner S.S. Ville du Havre.


Around 2 a.m. on November 22, 1873, the steamship was hit by the iron-hulled Scottish sailing vessel Loch Earn. The Ville du Havre broke in two and sank within 12 minutes. Out of 283 passengers, 57 were saved.

According to reports, Anna Spafford was found unconscious and floating on a piece of debris. She was rescued taken by vessel to Cardiff, Wales, where she cabled Horatio in Chicago with the words, “Saved alone. What shall I do…”

On the voyage to meet Anna in Paris, Horatio was summoned to the Captain’s cabin, where he was told they were passing over the place where the Ville du Havre sank and his daughters drowned. It is said he returned to his cabin and there penned the words we now sing through the fires, floods, and victories of our own lives.

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

Out of unimaginable tragedy came the words that have become one of the most treasured and influential hymns of all time.


Turbulent waves of anguish and grief have been stilled with the peace-producing words of It Is Well With My Soul as the lyrics push the heart to rest in God’s sovereignty though “sorrows like sea billows roll.” Why is it so meaningful?

This song lifts our hearts to God’s flawless character and into confidence that the Judge of all the earth can do only right. The words remind us that we are no longer our own, we’ve been bought with an enormous price and we can trust our Master. God holds our lot and, because of who He is, His grace enables our hearts to sing “whatever my lot Thou hast taught me to say it is well, it is well with my soul.”

“Whatever my lot.” Even if, like Spafford himself, that means being stripped of all we hold dear. To lose everything and still rejoice, think also of the Apostle Paul, going so far to say, “It is well with my soul,” is something that can only be explained by the Gospel.

It doesn’t make sense on the surface, and it is not our natural default setting, but your heart can sing the Gospel in agony and anguish. But how?


How could Spafford write and believe these words?

How can it be well with your soul when you lose three children to shipwreck?

How can it be well with your soul when you lose almost all your financial investments?

How can it be well with your soul when you lose all sense of normalcy in your life?

It can only be well with your soul in the moment of tragedy if your heart is locked on the One who is not only better than your circumstances but has divinely orchestrated them for your highest joy.

Though Satan should buffet,
Though trials should come,
Let this blessed assurance control,
That Christ has regarded
My helpless estate
And hath shed
His own blood for my soul

It can only be well with your soul in the middle of misery when your hope is found in the regard of Jesus Christ the Righteous. It is that “blessed assurance” which reorients our thoughts and focus and places at center the One who bore our sin and shame thereby enabling us to worship and suffer at the same time.


We suffer with an eternal perspective by remembering the Gospel. We bake our souls in the truth that says Christ has defeated every sin and has shed His own blood for our souls.

We suffer with an eternal perspective by looking to the day when all our pains will be dissolved into gain, all our sorrows will be diffused into eternal joy, all our agonies will be disintegrated into glory, and all our death will be decomposed into resurrection.

We suffer with an eternal perspective when we remember Jesus is the Man of Sorrows who once wore our grief like a garment and now sits at the right hand of the throne of God as our High Priest.

We suffer with an eternal perspective by anticipating when the faith shall be sight and acting on God’s promise to one day completely eradicate sin and all the pain that goes with it.

We suffer with an eternal perspective when we trust Him to sustain us to the end (of all our suffering [1 Corinthians 1:8]).

We suffer with an eternal perspective as we breathe in the blissful reality that Jesus took our sin not in part but the whole and nailed it to the cross, enabling us to praise Him with our whole hearts despite the circumstances around us.

We suffer with an eternal perspective by staking our hearts in the truth that He does all things well, therefore, it is well. And that hope stands firm though the winds and waves try to convince us otherwise.

We suffer with an eternal perspective by finding hope not in this world but in the One who reigns over it and has purchased our passage through it to eternal rest.

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!

So rest.

It is well.

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Favorite Books

I often get asked what books should someone read; this is a hard question because there are so many things that would affect one’s answer. But here is a series of questions that a brother has posed that somewhat helps. I hope this helps you in your pursuit of God and His truth. (PLEASE do not forward this to anyone or post this anywhere; it is also planned for future publication use in other settings.)

The book I am currently reading –

I Shall not Die but Live by Douglas Taylor
This is wonderfully pastoral, experiential, and devotional, and centers on seeing and knowing Christ in all things in life and when facing death.

The book that changed my life –

I have to mention two! The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer and Studies in the Sermon on the Mount by Martin Lloyd-Jones; Tozer’s book directed me toward a God-centered life of desiring to know God personally, and the Lloyd-Jones’ book demolished my dispensational interpretation of the Lord’s mount sermon and made me see that Jesus was revealing what a true Christian is and how they live.

The book I wish I had written –

Either Redemption Accomplish and Applied by John Murray (one of my top three favorites of all time) or The Gospel According to Jesus by John Macarthur, which shook the American evangelical world by exposing the falseness of non-Lordship salvation and has had lasting reformational effect on so many churches and Christians.

The book that helped me in my preaching –

Most recently, The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper; simple, brief and clear, the book calls the preacher back to the romance and simplicity of what preaching truly should be. Also, on preaching the Old Testament narratives, Dale Ralph Davis’ book, The Word Made Fresh, greatly helped me in how to approach preaching difficult sections of the Old Testament.

The book I think is most underrated –

Thoughts on Religious Experience by Archibald Alexander; simply profound and deeply helpful in understanding the nature of true Christian experience.

The book that made me say many Amens as I turned its pages –

For me, it has to be Revival and Revivalism by Iain Murray, simply because I was raised in a “revivalism” culture and was trained in that setting, and this book opened my eyes fully to understand that what I was already seeing was a faulty system, and what revival was historically and theologically.

The last book that made me weep –

This is a hard one because the 2 volume life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones made me weep at times, but the one I read more recently that produced this effect on me is The Scots Worthies, a massive account of the lives of Scottish Covenanters who suffered so greatly in Scotland during the 17th century. Fair Sunshine by Jock Purves is a smaller version with the same theme by that produced the same effect on me – real tears!

The book I’m most ashamed not to have read –

Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Expositions on Ephesians; I’ve been reading other things and haven’t gotten around to them! That’s a poor thing on my part. Un-mined gold is sitting in my study yet untouched!

The book I most often give to new church members and young Christians –

This is an easy one for me; The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction by Sinclair Ferguson; I think it can be the most helpful book a new or untaught believer can read.

The book I give to people thinking of becoming Christians –

I would begin with John Blanchard’s small Ultimate Questions and then follow up with his book, Right with God. Nothing better evangelistically that these 2 gospel treasures.

The book I wish I were able to write, and want someone to write –

It would be titled this way: The Power of the Holy Spirit among the Scottish Covenanters in their Suffering. There was phenomenal reality that those preachers and believers experienced by the ministry of the Spirit in those years of persecution because God was so real to them; He was so real to them because they so needed Him as their present help and deliverer.

Happy reading to you!


“The trial of your faith.”

1 Peter 1:7

Faith untried may be true faith, but it is sure to be little faith, and it is likely to remain dwarfish so long as it is without trials. Faith never prospers so well as when all things are against her: tempests are her trainers, and lightnings are her illuminators. When a calm reigns on the sea, spread the sails as you will, the ship moves not to its harbour; for on a slumbering ocean the keel sleeps too. Let the winds rush howling forth, and let the waters lift up themselves, then, though the vessel may rock, and her deck may be washed with waves, and her mast may creak under the pressure of the full and swelling sail, it is then that she makes headway towards her desired haven. No flowers wear so lovely a blue as those which grow at the foot of the frozen glacier; no stars gleam so brightly as those which glisten in the polar sky; no water tastes so sweet as that which springs amid the desert sand; and no faith is so precious as that which lives and triumphs in adversity. Tried faith brings experience. You could not have believed your own weakness had you not been compelled to pass through the rivers; and you would never have known God’s strength had you not been supported amid the water-floods. Faith increases in solidity, assurance, and intensity, the more it is exercised with tribulation. Faith is precious, and its trial is precious too.

Let not this, however, discourage those who are young in faith. You will have trials enough without seeking them: the full portion will be measured out to you in due season. Meanwhile, if you cannot yet claim the result of long experience, thank God for what grace you have; praise him for that degree of holy confidence whereunto you have attained: walk according to that rule, and you shall yet have more and more of the blessing of God, till your faith shall remove mountains and conquer impossibilities.

– C. H. Spurgeon

All Prayer

Prayer, prayer, prayer must be more of a business than it has been previously.

Prayer is seed sown on the heart of God.

God likes to see His people shut up to this — there is no hope except in prayer. Herein lies the church’s power against the world.

It is a sign that the blessing of God is not at hand when God’s people are not praying much.

Delayed answers may be very abundant answers.

Ask God for anything, but let Him judge as to the manner, measure, and timing of the giving.

Every time God hears us cry, “Abba, Father”, He remembers Christ’s prayer in Gethesame.

When any passage of Scripture comes alive to us, it is the equivalent of God coming to us and saying, “Ask me what you would have me give you.” The apostle says, “Ask of Him, who gives liberally and upbraids us not.” It should be great things that we ask and expect from a liberal Father.

— Andrew Bonar

God might well reproach and rebuke us for our carelessness, negligence, smallness, or unbelief in prayer, but He will never be displeased with our asking too much–our Lord said, “Whatsoever things ye ask.”
— Mack Tomlinson

Daily Thoughts: Thankfulness and Praise

Oh, let the river of life rise higher and higher in my soul!

Thy people are no longer heavy-laden with sins, but are now heavy-laden with benefits.

We far more often meet a man laboring under a sense of sin more than one laboring under a sense of God’s mercies. We pick out all the little crosses and troubles of life and mourn over them, and forget our mercies. But the whole of our life is mercy, mercy, mercy.

We should always be wearing the garment of praise, not just waving a palm branch now and then.

Thanksgiving is the very air of heaven.

There are some saints who grieve so much over their imperfect holiness that they never rejoice.

I see that it is just as solemn a thing to be crowned with mercies as to be crushed with affliction.

Pharaoh forgot all of God’s judgments; do we also not forget many of God’s mercies?

Many a sorrow is calmed by a song of praise.

— Andrew Bonar

Tried by Praise, Pt 2

“If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing.” – John 8:54

This word strikes deep. It cuts straight through all self-praise, all pleasure in praise, and taking home to your heart what others say about you. It seems to me to be like that subtle thing of spiritual flattery coming from our lips. I believe that the only safe place for praise of any sort is the dust at the foot of the Cross. I am not thinking now of the encouraging word that a captain speaks to his soldiers or a fellow-worker to fellow-workers, or a teacher to students. I am rather thinking of a deadly thing, the praise of man that brings a snare and not a blessing. It is the acceptance of that which can wreck the soul. Our Lord utterly refused it, ignored it, and turned from it. It was nothing, less than nothing, to Him.

– Amy Carmichael