The Meaning Of It Is Well With My Soul – Then And Now

How easy it is to say “God is good” when everything is going smoothly and financial success is ours. It is a whole other story to utter these words in the middle of a life disaster. 

How does one hold onto the promises of God when life hurts? How do you possibly hear the voice of the Lord in these moments? 

Let’s take this timeless hymn line by line to understand the meaning of “It is well with my soul.” It is an incredible story of faith with many lessons from real life.  

The meaning of it is well with my soul – first verse

Where did the hymn “It is well with my soul” come from?

Horatio G. Spafford, a devout Christian was no stranger to tragedy. As is often the case, some of the greatest songs, poems, and literature are born out of pain. 

Mr. Spafford endured multiple losses that would drown many of us. Yet his poem which would later be set to music focuses less on his losses and more on our eternal hope.

Mr. Spafford was a successful attorney and a partner in a prominent law firm. He prospered financially, using his wealth to invest in real estate.

Yet, life’s prosperity was not the most important thing in his life. His priorities were ordered correctly.

  • He was an elder in the Presbyterian Church
  • He used some of his wealth to support those proclaiming the Gospel of Christ Jesus, including Dwight L. Moody
  • He adored his family

Indeed, life seemed peaceful until tragedy struck.

Excruciating news was like deep waters prompting Horatio’s prose in 1873. 

  • All of his real estate holdings were reduced to rubble in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
  • All of his 4 beautiful daughters were killed in the shipwreck of the SS Ville Du Havre crossing the Atlantic Ocean in 1873. 
  • Spafford’s wife Anna barely survived the shipwreck, clinging to a piece of wreckage until she was rescued.
  • His faith was tested again when his four-year-old son died of scarlet fever in 1880. 

These tragedies remind me a lot of the Biblical story of Job, losing all his children and possessions. For wealthy individuals, the depths of such unimaginable sorrow can cause either anger at God or submission to His plans for their lives. 

After writing his poem, Mr. Spafford shared it with his friend Phillip Bliss who added the music. 

People all over the world have been singing this song for over 100 years because it is packed with what we need to know.

Life is full of change, often not the things we would volunteer to experience. That was the case for Horatio Gates Spafford.

It is significant that he wrote, “Thou hast taught me to say.”  

Dealing with life is a learning process. He was devoted to God and undoubtedly familiar with these Scriptures.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. ”  Romans 8:28 ESV

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

During the times of peace in Mr. Spafford’s life, he was a student of the word of God. That is what prepared him for the tragedies he would face and kept him afloat in a sea of turmoil and trouble.

Of course, his wife, Anna was also grieving the loss of their children, Yet, she was connected to God in a very personal way. She would have been familiar with this Scripture passage.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” Psalm 46:1-3 ESV

Horatio and Anna had this assurance that God was with them and would help them in these troubling times.

Photo of a woman playing the guitar and an overlay that are thoughts from Romans 8:28 and Jeremiah 29:11 - that explain the meaning of it is well with my soul.
Thoughts from Romans 8:28 and Jeremiah 29:11 that help us understand the meaning of it is well with my soul.

While everything we own is temporary and fleeting, our souls live on forever. Spafford’s daughters and son were in the arms of Jesus. He knew that someday he would join them in the presence of the Lord. 

The meaning of it is well with my soul – second verse

The second stanza of this classic hymn helps us understand if it is truly well with our soul.

What kinds of troubles and trials are you going through? (or have gone through)

We are told in Scripture it is not “if” but “when” troubles will plague us. It is inevitable. Praise God, He will sustain us in the difficult periods of life.

 Spafford’s hymn certainly expresses gut-wrenching feelings like waves crashing over us with all their force. Greif can be hard to bear.

This line reminds me of another beloved hymn, “Blessed assurance Jesus is mine.” Whatever we focus our minds on will control our emotions in troubled times. 

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Romans 12:2 ESV

Yes, we may be in shock initially when a tragic accident or serious illness strikes. But we can face them with confidence in the one who promises to walk with us in all of life’s tragedies until and including our last breath. 

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Isaiah 43:2 ESV

Photo of a woman playing music on a guitar and an overlay with thoughts from Romans 12:2 and Isaiah 43:2 - that help us understand the meaning of it is well with my soul.
Thoughts from Romans 12:2 and Isaiah 43:2 that help us understand the meaning of it is well with my soul.

​We are helpless in many ways. 

  • We have no control over where we are born or who our parents are 
  • We have no control over how we are raised – religion, education, and so much more. 
  • We can’t stop the death of those we love. Mr. Spafford could not stop the loss of his daughters or son. 
  • Our skills are a gift but we can lose them at any point in time through accidents or sickness
  • We can’t stop a fair-weather friend or family member from turning their back on us. 
  • We can’t postpone our appointment with death
  • Most significantly, we can’t save ourselves from the consequences of sin that separate us from God. 

Praise God that He remembers that we are made from the dust and often stumble spiritually. Even when we struggle with anger or lack of faith over life’s troubles, He never stops loving us. 

Jesus  Christ died for all of us regardless of our nationality, race, or social status. 

​We all stand on level ground at the foot of the Cross. None of us has an advantage over anyone else. No one is entitled to better treatment. 

No matter what happens, when we have a restored connection to God through a relationship with Jesus, we know the meaning of it is well with my soul.

Possessions and physical health are temporary, but our life with Jesus is eternal.

The meaning of it is well with my soul – last verse

This stanza of the song looks forward to things waiting for us in the future because we know personally the meaning of it is well with my soul.

This line is based on the promise that we as Christians have for a glorious future even though we can’t see it yet.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 ESV

“Hope” here is not like we use the word today. We say things like:

  • I hope to get there on time
  • I hope I will pass the test
  • I hope he can be here for his birthday

We could easily replace the word “hope” in these sentences with the word “wish” because they may or may not happen.

In contrast, we have a hope or guarantee of heaven as Christians.

This line and the following one talk about the second coming of Jesus Christ to rule this world as the King of Kings.

The return of the Lord will be a public event that everyone will be aware of. It doesn’t matter where we are or what we are doing, we will not miss this moment.

As Christians, we have nothing to fear when Jesus comes back to walk this earth again. We can say with complete confidence that “it is well with my soul.”

Is it well with your soul?

Don’t second guess. You can know for sure where you will spend eternity. It all starts with a relationship with Jesus.

If you don’t know Jesus, you probably have questions. The people at Chat About Jesus have answers. They are available online from anywhere in the world any time of the night or day.

If you live in the United States, you can call or text them.

Take a listen to “It is well with my soul” sung by Austin Stone Worship.

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