Horatio Spafford was a prominent, well-to-do Chicago attorney in the late 1800’s, who was happily married with four young daughters. He is best known for the traditional hymn he penned, “It Is Well With My Soul.”
But the story behind the story reads more like something taken from the Book of Job.
His fortunes began to turn in the Spring of 1871. Having invested heavily in real estate, the Great Fire of Chicago which burned for three days wiped out most of Spafford’s investments.
Two years later, still trying to re-build his financial world, Spafford decided to vacation with his family in England. Delayed by business at the last minute he sent his wife and their daughters—ages eleven, nine, five, and two—on ahead. Off the coast of France, the ship collided with another ship and sank. All four of the Spafford daughters perished.
One can only imagine what Horatio Spafford felt as he sailed for England to console his grieving wife Anna. But what we do know is that as he passed the area where his daughters had died, there is where he penned the immortal words, “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.”
The cynic might be tempted to wonder if poor Mr. Spafford was simply in shock, or trying his best to spiritualize away losses of Biblical proportion. Well with his soul? Denial, right? Eventually his spiritual and psychological house would collapse in the face of his crushing reality, right? Wrong.
After their church declared their tragedies to be a sign of divine retribution, and the Spafford’s lost another child—this time to scarlet fever—Horatio and Anna left for Israel, to establish the ‘American Colony’ with their two surviving children.
This philanthropic organization offered humanitarian aid to Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike—showing no partiality, and preaching the Gospel ONLY with their works.
Horatio Spafford would spend the last seven years of his life in service to the suffering, dying just days short of his 60th birthday. He was buried in Jerusalem.
It’s been said that how you respond to losses will determine whether your life becomes bitter or bigger. But Horatio Spafford reminds us that there is a third category: heroic.
He is a hero you should know. And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.