The lyrics for this beautiful hymn were written by Horatio Spafford in 1873, following a tragedy in his family. A successful attorney, Spafford had invested heavily in property in and around Chicago. Much of this property was destroyed in the great Chicago fire. After suffering this financial loss he decided to take his family and travel in Europe. He booked passage on the SS Ville du Havre. Due to a last minute problem, he sent his family on to Europe and he stayed home to tend to business. During the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, the SS Ville du Havre collided with the vessel, Loch Earn. All four of Spafford’s daughters died, but his wife survived. Anne Spafford sent him a telegram saying, “Saved alone…what shall I do?” Spafford traveled to Europe to meet his grieving wife. As his ship came near the place where his daughters had died, he wrote the words that became the song, It Is Well With My Soul. The Spafford’s had three more children. In 1881, their family along with thirteen other adults and three children moved to Jerusalem where they set up a colony called the American Colony. During World War I their group supported people in need by running soup kitchens, hospitals and orphanages. Spafford died in 1888 of malaria.
Phillip Bliss was born in 1838, in Pennsylvania, the son of Isaac Bliss, a devout Methodist. When he was 6 years old, the family moved to Ohio. Bliss had little formal education and was taught to read from the Bible by his mother. When he was 10 selling vegetables on the street he heard a piano playing for the first time. A year later Bliss left home and went to work in sawmills and timber camps, attending school when possible to further his education. When he had enough education, he became a Schoolmaster. In 1857, Bliss received his first formal voice training from J.G. Towner who taught singing. From there he went on to become a singer and a music teacher himself, and he wrote a number of Gospel songs. He was drafted to serve in the Civil War in 1864, in the Union Army.
Following the war, he worked for several music companies and formed an association with Dwight L. Moody. He became a missionary singer and then a full-time evangelist.
Bliss and his wife were traveling on the Pacific Express train in December of 1876, when the train crossed a trestle bridge that collapsed causing all the train cars to fall into the ravine below. Bliss tried to get his wife out of the wreckage but the cars caught on fire and they were both killed along with 90 other passengers. The wreck was called the Ashtabula River Railroad Disaster.
Phillip Bliss wrote many well-known hymns, including Almost Persuaded, Hallelujah, What a Saviour!, Let the Lower Lights Be Burning, Wonderful Words of Life, and the tune for Horatio Spafford’s, It Is Well with My Soul.
The original manuscript had four verses, but Spafford’s daughter states that later another verse (the fourth in order below) was added and the last line of the original was slightly modified. The music, written by Philip Bliss, was named after the ship on which Spafford’s daughters died.
Ville du Havre – 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.
(Refrain:) 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 hath 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 His 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 pain shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
And Lord haste the day, when the 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.
You can listen to It Is Well With My Soul here on You Tube: