You have you heard the story of Horatio Spafford? Mr. Spafford was a successful attorney and real estate investor in Chicago. In the spring of 1871 Mr. Spafford made significant real estate investments on the north side of Chicago. However, in October of that same year, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed most of Mr. Spafford’s properties. And with it the majority of his fortune.
Two years later as he was rebuilding what was lost, the Panic of 1873 set in motion an economic depression that would last an additional four years. This depression was so bad it was originally known as “The Great Depression” until the economic depression in the 1930s replaced it.
It was during the worst of the panic in November of 1873 that Mr. Spafford sent his wife and daughters ahead of him on a trip to England while he stayed behind to tend to some of his business issues. The economy in 1873 featured inflation, the failure of over 50 of the nations railroad companies, and it was decided that silver would be demonetized.
As Mrs. Spafford and her four daughters sailed across the Atlantic on the SS Ville du Havre, these were the things that were likely on her mind. Six days into their voyage, the Ville du Havre collided with the Loch Earn, a British clipper ship while at sea and was sunk. Mrs. Spafford survived, but all four of their daughters perished.
On December 2, 1873 Mrs. Spafford sent a telegram home to Mr. Spafford that began with these words, “Saved alone what shall I do.”
Read – Job 19:1-27
Horatio Spafford had a lot in common with Job at this moment. His finances, his property, and now his children were all lost. He boarded a ship bound for France to join his grieving wife; completely broken. Horatio Spafford must have been intimately familiar with the book of Job by this point. It would be hard for anyone not to draw that comparison, even in their own life.
As the ship passed near the place where his daughters had drowned, Horatio Spafford leaned into the words of Job that he likely knew so well, “Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives…”
The man who lost his property and now all four of his young daughters did, in fact, engrave the words that defined his faith with an iron pen and lead into a road. Because that was the day that Horatio Spafford penned the words to “It Is Well with My Soul”.
In a year of incomprehensible loss may these words be also yours:
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Did you think I mistyped the last word of the third line? I didn’t. In the hymn we sing “Thou has taught me to say”, but the word know is much more powerful. Saying something and knowing it, especially knowing something as deep as this, are two very different things. May you know this type of hope.
Sing – O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Almighty God, grant us in equal measure; Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Hope in a Savior, Peace in our world, Joy in our hearts, and Love for our fellow man. In the name of Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate this Advent season, Amen.