Editor’s Note: This is a lightly edited transcription of the audio message. Thanks goes to Marilyn Fine for the transcription work.
We just have two more weeks of this series, and I hope that this series has been as much a blessing to you as it has to me. I have been so blessed in studying these songs, the stories of the writers, and all of the circumstances around each song. Today, we come to one of the all-time favorite great hymns of the faith. Today, we will be talking about the song, “It is Well With My Soul.”
Now, we know that this song is about peace. There is probably no other song that has been sung as frequently as this song at funerals, at times of bereavement, or at other times of grief. This is an all-time favorite. I think the reason why so many people choose to sing this song or have it sung, in times of turmoil, is that it so eloquently expresses the feelings and the faith of a Christian. That is one of the things about poetry, about hymns, about the Book of Psalms–they so eloquently express how the writer feels and we take those words and we say, you know, “that is exactly how I feel. I just did not know how to say it that way.” Have you ever read anything like that? “That is how I feel. They just put into words exactly what I have been feeling.” I think that is why this song is so loved.
Now, the song begins “when peace like a river.” Even though peace is not mentioned that much more in the song, it is really a song about having peace within your soul. I want to talk about that for a minute before we get into this in a little more detail. I am sure most of you are familiar with the biblical meaning of the word, the Hebrew word for peace. It is “shalom.”
I am taking Hebrew this semester. It is about to kill me. I had this as a vocabulary word last week and I know this word. It is the only one I know of about 5,000 words that we have to learn. Of course, I was especially interested in looking up the definition and looking at all the various meanings. You may be familiar with the word, shalom. It is not just peace. It also brings a strong, strong connection with wholeness or wellness. It can also mean help. You probably know that to those who speak Hebrew, “shalom,” is their greeting. It is what they say when they see each other. It is what they say when they say goodbye to each other. It is shalom. It means I wish for you or I pray for you peace. Not only peace such as a quiet spirit or happiness or things going well in your life, but a sense of wholeness that everything is in order in your life, that everything is as God intended it to be. So, there is really a much deeper meaning to the word “peace” as it is used in the scripture.
Now, we know that in the Fruit of the Spirit peace appears. Dr. Brunson just preached recently a series on the Fruit of the Spirit. His message on peace was one of the best things I ever heard. I say that about all his sermons. It was so good. It is a great series if you are studying this. The Fruit of the Spirit is peace. In Romans 5:1, Paul tells us what we used to be in the past. We were at enmity with God because of our sin. But, when Christ came, then we had peace with God. So, there is peace with God in that sense.
Then there is peace with one another. The Bible talks a lot about relationships. Paul in his letter to the Philippians urged two women to get along with one another. I guess in biblical times sometimes women did not get along. He urged them…how would you like that to be your heritage, your name, in Paul’s letter for the rest of the world to know that you were in an argument with another woman! But, this carries the idea of peace with one another, a peaceful relationship.
I think more than that as we talk about this word today we are looking at it in relation to inner peace, a spirit that is not restless or troubled, but our spirits being at peace with our situations, with our circumstances. That does not necessarily mean that our circumstances have changed to give us peace. It means that we have become at peace with our circumstances and this is a much deeper meaning than we might ordinarily associate peace of mind with.
Now, you are probably very familiar with the fact that in this day and age, at this very time, the highest selling medication in this country is Prozac or Zoloft or medications that alleviate stress and emotional depression. I have a friend who is a nurse and she was the nurse at a youth camp last summer at a large church in the Metroplex. I saw her afterward and asked how did she make out. She said, well, let me tell you, I was prepared to deal with skinned knees and maybe a broken arm or two and sprained ankles, and that kind of stuff. She said all I did was to dispense medication. These kids are medicated. I literally could not even stop for a coffee break in the morning putting out everybody’s medicine. Much of it was this type medication. That tells us something about our culture, doesn’t it? Even though we have a great deal of affluence and things, we seem to live in a time where stress, emotional turmoil, unhappiness, and especially depression is really prevalent in our culture.
I think I told this story in here before about the time we were in North Carolina in the mountains. We went into a little health food store when I was in my health food stage (which I got out of pretty quickly. Stay in that for very long and you will want to get out of it, too!) So, at this counter they had these little stones and on these flat little stones were painted words like love and joy and peace and things like that. There was a little sign which said $3.95 apiece. I said, “What are these?” She said, “Oh, those, they are like crystals and if you take them and you buy one and you keep it with you all the time, whatever the word you have, that will happen to you.” I said, “Really, I want to talk about this. So, if I buy the stone that says, joy, I am just going to automatically have joy?” She started to get a little antagonistic as she could tell I was kind of making fun of her. I did not mean to, but it just burst out of me. She said, “Yes, that is true.” I said, “Well, is there a money-back guarantee? That is what I want to know.” She said, “No.” Of course, I just let it go, but I did say to her, “Do you sell these?” She said she couldn’t keep them in stock. That, people, is sad. That is sad. Somebody is making a lot of money painting on little rocks.
So, the song, “It Is Well With My Soul,” talks about this kind of peace, a peace of wholeness and wellness that does not come from an outside source, but it comes from faith in Christ. It comes from God’s gift.
Now, I want to tell you the story briefly. I am sure many of you are very familiar with the story of Horatio Spafford who wrote the lyrics to this song. It is a classic story. He was a successful attorney in Chicago in the middle 1800s. He and his wife had four daughters and a four-year-old son who about the time that all of this started taking place was lost to scarlet fever. The little boy died of scarlet fever at age four. Very soon after that, literally just weeks after that, the Great Chicago Fire occurred which consumed virtually the whole city. He lost most of his fortune. Everything was gone. So, he put his efforts into trying to rebuild the city and helping the thousands of homeless people who had nothing.
Well, later on in 1873, he decided his family needed a vacation because of all the stress and all of that. So, they were going to see some friends in Europe. He was detained by business and Spafford’s wife and his daughters went ahead. They were on this luxury liner, the Ville Du Havre, and you may know the story that during the night, off the coast of Ireland, the ship collided with an iron sailing vessel and the ship was sunk. You can only imagine as you read those words in the hymn’s stories. If you saw Titanic, that is what instantly came to my mind of the fear and the panic and the screaming. We can only imagine how it must be to know that your children, in this instance, or other loved ones died in that way. Well, his wife was rescued floating unconscious on a piece of wreckage. All the survivors were taken to Wales. She cabled home to her husband and her cable simply said “saved alone.” Of course, he immediately booked passage to Wales to be with his wife. When he got on the ship, he told the captain that when you come to the place where the Ville Du Havre went down, will you come get me? I need to see that. So, it was on a dark, cold December night, early in the morning, the wee hours of the morning, that the captain knocked on his door and said that he believed they were passing by the place where the ship sank. He walked out to the deck and stood there in the freezing wind, in the darkness with the black inkiness of the sky and the water. He wept in grief over his lost children that went down in that spot. When he went back to his cabin, he could not sleep, of course. But, as he sat, these words began to come to his mind and they began to overflow. He took a pencil and he began to write these words , “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll.” He had just been out there looking at the ocean, the giant waves. “When sorrows.” He saw those sea billows as metaphorical and the sorrows that just washed over his soul. Huge immense billows which came and washed over him. “When sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot thou has taught me to say it is well with my soul.” That is usually the end of the story, but the story goes that when he and his wife were reunited, they took stock of their lives and decided what they were going to do with the rest of their life. They decided to go to Jerusalem. They went to Jerusalem and they began a ministry there to orphans. They bought outside of the city walls a home of a sheik that had sold his home. It is now The American Colony Hotel. If you ever go to Jerusalem, you must go there because it is a lovely, lovely home. It is a little hotel now. There are pictures all through it. Pictures taken in Jerusalem in the early 1900s and around Israel. He and his wife gave their lives to ministering to orphans and the homeless and the helpless and the needy in the place where Jesus had lived. That is where they ended up dying. To this day, some of their descendants, the Spafford descendants, continue that ministry and it is located right within the Damascus Gate of the Old City.
So, he left quite a heritage not only in this song, but I think also of proving in the way he lived out the rest of his life after an unspeakable tragedy. The fact that his life could go on and he could still minister and he could still give and he could still have a degree of satisfaction and joy in this life.
[Bible.org Editor’s Note: Unfortunately the picture is not as rosy as it might seem. Before moving to Jerusalem the Spafford’s left their church and created their own sect which resulted in a number of deviant beliefs and practices over the years. Thus Horatio’s life can serve as both an encouragement and a warning.]
Now, we are going to watch this today on video. You cannot have a series on him without the Gaither Homecoming video. I know. So, you are going to sing…this is kind of the all-stars…and you will see famous people like Michael W. Smith and people like that. It opens up Bill Gaither’s interviewing Ruth Graham, Billy Graham’s wife. This is her favorite hymn so she talks about it and then they go into the song so I want you to listen to it.
Bill: Oh, the bliss
Ruth: Of that glorious thought
Bill: My sin, not in part
Ruth: But in whole
Bill: Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
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, O my soul!
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
And Lord, haste the day when my 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.
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
So much goodness! I want you to note the train of thought in the verses of this song. The first verse he talks about when sorrows like sea billows roll. Whatever my lot, God has taught me to say it is well with my soul. When there is personal grief and sorrow so great that I cannot even express it, nevertheless, it is well with my soul. I know that God is in control of my life. I know that God is with me. I know He will give me the grace to go through what I have to do. That is what He talks about in verse 1. I hear people often say, “oh, I could never go through what somebody has had to go through.” You know what. You do not have to. God gives you the grace to go through what you go through and you do not have to have the grace to go through what everybody else does. He gives you the grace to go through what you are going through at that time.
The second verse talks about my sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought. My sin, not in part but the whole was nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh my soul. What is that? The peace of God. My sin. I do not have to bear the punishment and the judgment of my sin. Remember, we talked about that in here before. When you invite Christ to come into your heart and you give your life to Him, He took your judgment and your punishment in His very body on the cross. That is what we are talking about when we talk about giving your heart and life to Him. You are no longer under that curse of sin. So, what is he talking about here? Horatio Spafford is talking about his being at peace with God. I do not have to bear the guilt. Romans 8:1, “There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” I do not have to bear the condemnation. I do not have to feel guilty. I do not have to bear the punishment because Jesus has taken all of my sin on the cross.
Then, the last verse which is just such…can you sing those words or even read them without getting a lump in your throat? I cannot because I think of how many of God’s children in times of sorrow and grief have clung to these words with everything that is in them. There is a CD that has this that I listen to when I walk. I look up at the sky and I think, “God how many of your children who have had to walk through such horrible, difficult things have looked up at that sky and thought, ‘one of these days the clouds will roll back and the Lord shall descend.’” You know what will happen? He will come and it will be well. See, the contrast in this song is that he is saying my personal grief and sorrow are unbearable, but it is well. I will get through it. God will give me the grace to do it. My eternal security – it is well. The end of time when all of life…when it is all over, it is well. Either way, you see, no matter what, it is well with me. It is well with my soul because he had made peace with God and knew who and what He was doing. You know what? This goes back to the meaning of the word, “peace,” a wholeness. Not just a lack of conflict. When Jesus said, “My peace I give unto you.” He said I do not give you peace like the world gives you. Peace like the world gives is the removal of the bad circumstances, but I give you My peace. “My peace I give to you.”
Now, very quickly, let us talk about a couple of these things. There are many things that disturb our peace – losses, the grief, the sorrow like Horatio Spafford went through and Job went through. I want to say this quickly because I want you to identify with people in the Bible who have had losses and who were in turmoil and disturbed worry. In Matthew 6, Jesus spoke about worry. There is a proverb that says, “Anxiety in the heart of man weighs it down.” I love the way it says that. Is it not just like a weight? Is it not when you are worried it is just a heavy weight on you.
Jesus said, before He was going to the cross, He said, “My spirit is troubled. I am troubled in My spirit and you can sense in Jesus Himself anxiety. These are normal things that trouble us and make us restless.
Disappointments. I was reading the other day the last chapter in Luke where the two people were walking after Jesus had been crucified were walking on the road to Emmaus and Jesus walked with them and they did not know it was Jesus. He said to tell Him what was going on and He tells them about Christ. They said we were so hoping He had been the one. We know the end of that story that He reveals Himself to them, but they did not. I think about that when I read that. “We were so hoping He had been the one.” That is something we had been so hoping in. We just knew it was going to happen and it did not. It did not happen. Your prayers were not answered the way you thought. Disappointment. These are things that rob us and destroy our peace.
Let me tell you something. There is a way that we can have God’s peace very quickly. First of all to understand God’s promise. In John 14, and I mentioned this verse before, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled or afraid.” It is a gift from God. This peace that Jesus gives each one of His children is a gift. It is a gift that He gives us. Listen, how could Horatio Spafford bear this? God gave him peace. God gave him peace enough to write this song. God, I think, puts something on this song that makes it so that where it binds itself to your spirit. I mean I think so many people feel that way. I will say there are other hymns I am very much over that I will never need to hear again. This is not one of them. I could hear this 50 times a day and I start to cry every time I hear it. That is the way this kind of song is.
Jesus said, “I give my peace to you.” Well, let us think about Horatio Spafford. He gave him that peace. He wrote this song. He could express it. What else did He give him? He gave him a ministry. He gave him a ministry to people who had no parents, to people who had no children. He gave him a ministry of preaching the gospel and sharing the good news. He gives them still to this day even though he is in heaven he gives him a ministry of ministering to the down and out in Jerusalem. That is a gift from God, part of the peace, the wholeness. His life that was given to serve God.
Another way we can have God’s peace is to be spiritually minded, understanding and seeking to understand spiritual things and to make a choice to do that. In Romans 8:6, Paul said “to be carnally minded is death but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” As you fill your mind with songs and with the things of God it brings peace to your spirit and to your soul. Then, mostly importantly of all, to know God’s Word. Psalm 119 says, “Great peace have those who love thy law.” Great peace to those…have you ever been at worry or anxious or you are disturbed? What do you do? You go for your Bible, don’t you. Say, Lord, speak to me. Give me some comfort. Show me. Give me something to hang on to. Great peace have those who love thy law. God’s Word brings us comfort and brings us peace at a time when we need it. So, the peace of God is a gift and He gives it to us when we need it and He gives it to us. That does not mean necessarily that all of the bad things go away. It simply means that He gives us the ability to walk through those things and to continue to trust Him. I have looked at people who have gone through very difficult things. Even though they may be angry at God or upset or question or something, it is amazing to me how many people that are truly His still cling on to Him and say somehow I am not going to let go. They walk through that and God gives them an even greater ministry and even greater opportunity for their lives.
Now, a person such as that is Dawn Meade. Dawn is the Director of Women’s Ministry here. Many of you remember it was not that long ago when she was eight months pregnant with her little boy, Chandler. Her husband was on staff here with the prayer ministry. She came home from work one day and found him dead. You may remember how tragic that was and how we prayed for her. Chandler was born a healthy, good looking little energetic boy and if there is one word in watching Dawn walk through all of this, if there is one word I would use to describe her in watching from a distance it would be serenity. She does have the peace of God all over her. So, I want her to come and share for a few minutes about it. It is one thing to talk about it. It is something else to hear from someone who has walked it.
Thank you. Thank you, very much. You will have to forgive me because tears come very easy to me. “That’s OK, we can do that here.” I have her permission so…
I told Susie earlier that I felt like I needed to call her yesterday and say “you do not need me to come up here to talk about peace. Not if you would have seen me traveling on an airline this Thanksgiving with a 17-month-old who had a stomach virus and a head cold.” What is it about 17 months old that you have to teach them how to share their toys, but they share freely their germs! So, I spent Thanksgiving myself with a stomach virus. You walk through that and you just have to do some praying: “God, I am clinging on to you because right now I am angry. I am hurt and I just do not understand, but I know that I know that You are in control and I know.”
I have those verses just like many of you do where you hang your hat. “For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to give you a hope and a future.” We hang our hat on that. I heard a definition, or read a definition in the dictionary one time about peace and it was the absence of conflict. I think Susie alluded to that. That is the world’s definition. That is not God’s definition of peace. If you look through the Word it says we will have trials. We will have tribulations. Being a Christian is not an absence of those things. As a matter of fact, it is almost an invitation for those things because as we walk through those things, we have an opportunity to decrease so that He can increase because there is an outside world watching on asking, “is there something else to this life? Is there something more than this?” Oh, yes, the answer is yes! There is. I think Susie even alluded to the scripture verse. This is Jesus talking in John 14:27. I am leaving you with a gift, peace of mind and heart and the peace I give you is not like the peace the world gives. So, do not be troubled or afraid. The peace that the world has is not what His peace is about. His peace has nothing to do what is going on around here. His peace has to do with what is going on in here.
Since Crawford died on June 10th of 2002, raising as a single parent our son by myself has many of its own challenges. I know many of you are single parents and have walked through that yourself. I remember one night, it was a 3 am feeding, and I was exhausted, just absolutely exhausted. I was still nursing at the time and Chandler had finished nursing and it was that calm in the middle of the night and he was satisfied. In the quiet and the stillness, out of the corner of his eye, he looked up at me and he smiled. Just the sense of that moment of God being near was precious. Then, I sat him up and then he projectile vomited all over me and himself! You know, you just gotta’ fasten your seatbelt sometimes and hold on, but God was there in that part of it. He did not leave just because the moment changed or the moment got a little more hard or difficult. His presence was still there.
One of the verses that God gave me to know my salvation was 1 John 5:13. “These things I have written so that you may know that you have eternal life.” Hang your hat on it, ladies, because you can know that He is in control. You can know that He is sovereign. Let me tell you about one of the things God has led us through. Chandler is 17-and-a-half months old now and a very beautiful, vivacious and very active and investigative little boy— as many of you who have some 17 month olds know. The thing for me that is difficult is at the same time that I say 17-and-a-half months I also know it has been 17-and-a-half months since I lost my husband. So there is a precious, bitter-sweetness when I say the age of my son because it is also a reminder.
Since we are talking about hymns, let me share the one that I want sung at my funeral. I would like to read some of the words to it. It is the hymn, “Because He Lives.”
God sent His son, they called him Jesus,
He came to love, heal and forgive.
He lived and died to buy my pardon.
An empty grave is there to prove my savior lives.
The second verse:
How sweet to hold a newborn baby and feel the pride and joy he gives.
But greater still, the calm assurance this child can face uncertain days because He lives.
Then, one day, I will cross the river,
I will fight life’s final war with pain,
and then as death gives way to victory,
I will see the lights of glory and I will know He lives.”
Any of you who have lost dear, precious loved ones know. Heaven is a little sweeter place because of it. Earth has lost a little bit of its shine, if you will. Yet we go on. We have much to be grateful for. We have much to praise the Lord for, but there are precious family members that are on the other side cheering us on and will be there when we see them, as well. So, what do we do? We hang our hats on His promises. We walk—sometimes one minute at a time. Sometimes it does not look the way we want it to look, but we can know that we know He has our best interest at heart. Those of you who know Him personally know then that at one point this is all going to be over and we are going to see Him face to face. We are going to see our loved ones again. One of the things I want to hear is “well done, well done, good and faithful servant.” Thanks! (applause)
Let me just end today with a couple of scriptures. In Philippians 4, the classic verse on peace it says that we are to “Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made know to God.” When that happens, what will happen? “Then, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” That is a great promise about the peace of God which surpasses all understanding. We do not know why we feel that way, we do not know how we are doing it. I am sure Dawn looks back and thinks “I do not know how I made it through those months,” but God’s peace will do that. That is a promise. It is a gift from God. Let me remind you about Isaiah 26. That simple little verse says, “Thou will keep him in perfect peace”….what?!… “whose mind is stayed on Thee.” As we keep our hearts and minds fixed on Christ Jesus, He will give us that peace within ourselves.
Let’s pray. Father, thank you for the gift of peace You have given us. We seek to understand what You mean when you say in Your Word, when You say that we have peace and we have these other gifts and, Lord, I thank you for the understanding that it is not just about things going right. It is much deeper than that. That we have peace with You. That we can have peace with one another in our relationships and most of all that we can have peace with our circumstances and peace with the fact that you are in control of our lives. So, Lord, I pray that today it would be well with the souls of every woman in this room. If there is anyone here today, Lord, that it is not well with them, they are troubled, they are not sure of their relationship with you, Lord, I pray that today would be the day that that is settled and it would be well with their soul.
Thank you for this gift that You have given us, Lord. I pray that we would be faithful to appreciate it, faithful to use it, and that we would also be found faithful, Lord, that despite what we go through that we would be experiencing the peace and the joy it is to walk with you. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
See you next week.