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[Watch below the video illustrating the story of Horatio Spafford and his hymn, “It is Well with My Soul.”]]

Horatio Gates Spafford (1828-1888) was a wealthy Chicago businessman and lawyer, married with five children and living in Chicago in 1870.  when his son, Horatio Spafford Jr., contracted scarlet fever and died.  The next year, a massive fire devasted the city on October 8-10,1871. The fire killed almost 300 people and destroyed the homes of around 100,000. Spafford suffered great losses when his real estate holdings burned to the ground.  Despite their financial losses, the Spaffords offered generous assistance to others.

Two years after the fire, in 1873, Spafford decided to take his family to England to visit his friend, evangelist D. L. Moody, who was preaching there. A business matter delayed Spafford, so he sent his wife Anna (1842-1923) and their four daughters (11-year-old Anna, 9-year-old Margaret Lee, 5-year-old Elizabeth, and 2-year-old Tanetta) ahead of him. They sailed on the steamship Ville du Havre.

More Tragedy

On November 22, 1873, an iron sailing ship struck the Ville du Havre and sank into the Atlantic Ocean in 12 minutes.  Rescuers found Spafford’s wife unconscious and floating on a plank of wood. But sadly, all four of the couple’s daughters perished. When Anna Spafford arrived in Cardiff, South Wales, she telegraphed her husband two words: “Saved alone….”

Spafford immediately booked passage on a ship and left to join his wife. As the ship crossed the Atlantic Ocean, in the area where the Ville du Havre had sunk, and his daughters had perished, Spafford penned the words, “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.”

The Rest of the Story

The Spaffords’ lives changed in many ways after the death of their daughters. They returned to Chicago and “rebuilt” their lives, with  Anna giving birth to four more children.  Sadly, their only son, Horatio (named after his deceased brother and father), died at four in 1880.  The Spaffords also left their Presbyterian church, after embracing unorthodox beliefs, including denying the reality of an eternal hell and accepting a doctrine of universalism (all people will go to heaven).  

The Spaffords created their own “church,” gathering a small group of believers that came to be known as “The Overcomers.”  In September 1881, with Horatio Spafford as their leader,, the group of 20 journeyed to Israel and established a commune known as the American colony. They served the poor, the sick, and the homeless in the name of Jesus, yet many of the group’s practices and beliefs did not reflect the Lord’s teachings. The group built a luxury hotel in east Jerusalem called “The American Colony Hote.”  The hotel still stands today and is still owned by descendants of the Spaffords.  

Horatio Spafford died in 1888, and his wife Anna in 1923.

The Story and the Song

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***A Hidden Message in Psalm 23?***  

Hidden in the six verses of Psalm 23 are 11 names for Jesus.  When you subscribe to our newsletter, we’ll send you The Names of God in Psalm 23 PDF that reveals all 11 names and Scripture verses of comfort and hope (link will be sent in your confirmation email).

A Room with a View of Eternity—The Last Will & Testament of Jesus Christ   Take a seat at the Master's table. Learn about the riches He gives to all who are His. This book will bless and encourage you, give you hope, and help you live in the joy of your salvation and the riches of Christ that are yours.

The Top Ten Got Questions? in 2023 

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There is much to be learned from those who have gone before us in the faith.  Check out our Cloud of Witnesses category that features the words of departed saints who are now with the Lord in glory.  Their words equip and encourage us even to this day.  Take a few minutes to hear...

  1. ONLY ONE LIFE, Twill Soon Be Past – by C.T. Studd (1860 – 1931)
  2. “The Love of God is Greater Far” by Frederick M. Lehman (1917)
  3. Prayers from Billy Graham
  4. Who Was Robert Robinson? What’s the Story Behind “Come Thou Fount”
  5. “Immanuel” — A Poem by Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892)
  6. Who Am I? A Poem by Deitrich Bonhoeffer (1905-1945)
  7. Understanding the Everlasting Arms of God, by J.R. Miller (1840–1912)
  8. 24 Reasons Why I Love America, by John Wayne (1907-1979)
  9. Give Me Perpetual Broken-heartedness (from The Valley of Vision)
  10. Abide with Me, by James Smith, 1859

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