When I heard this was my then fiancé’s favorite hymn, I had it in my head to arrange it for him, but every time I sat down to do it I felt I couldn’t quite capture the mood I wanted to. It is a hymn that has meant a great deal to many over the decades, and I wanted to do the words justice, even if the words wouldn’t actually be sung in my version. A few months ago, we had the occasion to record some hymns for a church event facilitated by one of our friends. Deadlines are always immensely helpful for me in the creative process, so at last, I managed to record an arrangement I was happy with.
“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.”
In this hymn, we find someone reconciling the good and the hard, as I have written about before. Whether times are easy, or fraught with trial and difficulty, the speaker is able to say, “It is well with my soul.”
But why? You may ask. Indeed, the writer of this hymn had recently lost his children in a shipwreck. How can one possibly say, “It is well?” in such a situation?
“Though satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blessed assurance control:
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate
and has shed his own blood for my soul.”
Thus, it is the blood of Christ which gives the speaker the ability to rest. Even in the darkest shadow of grief, he has hope through Jesus, who secured eternal life for all who trust in him when he gave himself up on the cross.
“My sin–oh the bliss of this glorious thought–
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord oh my soul!”
The speaker recognizes that he, like every one of us, was born into bondage. No matter how hard he tries, he cannot free himself from his sin nature, that is, that part of him that compels him to think, say, and do wrong things. This is a problem, when you consider that a perfect and holy God must be perfectly just. There must be an answer for evil, including all the evil that you and I have done. God’s answer is found in Jesus. He took the punishment I deserved, and praise the Lord I can agree with the speaker in saying I bear my sin no more, and praise God, so do you if you trust in Jesus.
The hymn finishes with a triumphant vision of Christ’s glorious return at the end of the age. The speaker has such security in Christ that even as that dreadful time of judgement approaches, and those who have rejected Christ draw near to destruction, he can confidently say, “It is well”, because he knows his salvation is sure in Jesus.
“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.”
Note: Though I think the theology of this hymn is sound, the writer, Horatio Spafford, had some very erroneous theological beliefs, and should not be considered an example of a faithful believer. When I use the word “speaker”, I mean it in the sense of poetic analysis, rather than in reference to the author. As we have seen many times throughout history, God is a mighty redeemer and can use even the lost to produce great works to encourage and uplift his people. I think that is the case here.
Do you have a favorite hymn? Why is it your favorite? Let me know in the comments. Perhaps I’ll be inspired to arrange that one, too.