Sunday Sermon: ‘It Is Well With My Soul’

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This morning is a special time for many of you. We have set this Sunday aside in order for us to remember our loved ones who are no longer with us. As I previewed the slide presentation, I couldn’t help but cry, not only for myself, but for each of you. I know that each of those pictures represent someone you love very deeply.

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Death is such a strange thing. It’s hard to imagine how we can be talking with someone one day and they be gone the next. Yet we read in  James 4:14 Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. Life at its best is short.

Because I am a pastor, I am often faced with death, as well as the pain and sorrow it brings to a family. We call that sorrow – ‘grief.’ What is grief? According to the internet source – ‘WebMD’, grief is – ‘Our emotional reaction to a significant loss.’ It is also a part of our ‘life adjustment’ to that loss. Often there are various stages of grief: initial shock; intense sadness which can lead to depression; sometimes there is fear; guilt; anger; and apathy. Finally there is some form of adjustment. I also read that the reason many people talk so much about their loss is because it helps them to make the adjustments so that they can put it all in perspective.

As I was preparing for this service, I took the time to study various passages of scripture that reveal the many ways and reasons people grieve.

The Grief of a Child for Their Parent:

I read of Joseph who mourned for his father Jacob. The Bible says – “Joseph fell upon his father’s face, and wept upon him, and kissed him.” (Gen 50:1) Then Joseph led a great funeral procession that traveled out of Egypt and back to Canaan where his father was buried. The key thought seemed to me to be – honor. Children want to honor their parents who die. I remember at my father’s death, the key thought of the pastor’s message was – “A good name is better than precious ointment.” (Ecc 7:1) I was comforted to know that my dad was being honored for his good name.

The Grief of a Spouse for Their Mate:

Then I read of the way Abraham grieved over his wife, Sarah. Sarah was 127 years old when she died. She had been the faithful companion of Abraham for a long time. Scripture says that Abraham wept for her and then he sought to purchase a proper place for her body to be buried. I find it interesting to note that out of the entire land God promised to Abraham, the only piece of it that Abraham ever actually possessed was the cave where he buried his beloved wife. Therefore the key thought seemed to me to be – ‘Care.’ Abraham sought to care for his beloved wife, even after she had died.

The Grief of a Parent for Their Child:

Then I read in the Bible of various occasions when a parent has lost a child. Events such as Jacob when he thought that his son Joseph had been killed by wild animals and the grief of David when he received word that his son Absalom was dead.

Dr. Jim Henry, who I admire greatly, writes in a book entitled, “A Minister’s Treasury of Funeral and Memorial Messages” –

‘Of all the deaths, that of a child is most unnatural and hardest to bear. We expect the old to die. While that kind of separation is always difficult, it comes as no surprise. But the death of a young child is a different matter. Life with its beauty, wonder, and potential lies ahead of them. When a child dies, part of the parent is buried. So writes Joseph Bayly, who had the sad duty of burying three of his children.’

I have never tasted that bitter cup and I pray that I never will. Many of you have and my heart truly goes out to you. At times I have tried to imagine what it must be like and to be honest, my mind doesn’t want to go there. Yet as I was meditating upon all of this, a song did come to my mind. It was written by a man who lost four of his daughters in one single accident. The man’s name was Ho­ra­tio G. Spaf­ford, and as many of you know, he wrote the hymn – “It Is Well With My Soul.”

Here is one account of the setting for that song: (www.hymns.net)

Horatio G. Spafford was known as a sincere, devout Christian. He was the father of four daughters, an active member of the Presbyterian church, and a loyal friend and supporter of D. L. Moody and other evangelical leaders of his day.

In November 1873, Spafford decided to take his entire family to Europe for a vacation, intending also to assist Moody in his evangelistic work once he arrived there. However, Spafford was unexpectedly detained in Chicago due to urgent business concerns, but decided to send his family ahead. Midway through the trans-Atlantic voyage, their ship was struck by another vessel and eventually foundered. Spafford’s four daughters—Anna, eleven; Maggie, nine; Bessie, seven; and Tanetta, two—were among the 226 who perished in the aftermath. Mrs. Spafford, one of the few who were spared, sent her husband the heartbreaking telegram: “Saved alone.”

Spafford immediately sailed for England to join his grief-stricken wife. As his ship passed the approximate location where his daughters had drowned, his deep sorrow mingled with his unwavering faith in God’s goodness caused him to compose the following hymn.

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.

How could it be well with a man’s soul who lost all four of his children at one time in such a tragic accident? I wished this had never happened to Ho­ra­tio G. Spaf­ford, yet I am thankful that he allowed the Lord to use him afterward in such a powerful way. Nearly 150 years after this great tragedy, God is still using the words this grieving man wrote, and I believe that if Jesus tarries another 1,000 years before He returns, God will still be using him to bring comfort to those who are suffering.

I have really struggled over what to say this morning. I have labored for hours over passages of scripture, yet never felt peace about preaching from any of them. Finally I decided to take a serious look at the words to ‘It Is Well With My Soul’ and try to learn what our dear brother was trying to tell us. It was then that I began to sense the Spirit’s leading.

I. Whatever My Lot, Thou Has Taught Me to Say

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.

A. When Peace, Like a River…

At first I couldn’t understand what Spafford was trying to say. ‘When peace, like a river, attendeth my way…’ Then I concluded that Spafford was reminding us that God does give us many good times in life. There are times when His peace blesses our life, like a river blesses the land.

There were good times in Spafford’s life. He had been a prosperous business man in Chicago. He had become good friends with some of the greatest Christian leaders of his time. He had a loving wife and 5 beautiful children. I’m sure that he would be the first to tell us this morning that God had been good to him.

Yet in all of prosperity, something even more significant happened to him. His relationship with the Lord became deeper and deeper. You don’t write words like this after such a tragic loss unless you know the Lord in a real and personal way.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll …

B. When Sorrows Like a Sea Billows Roll

Ho­ra­tio Spaf­ford experienced success and he experienced sorrow. We know of some of his sorrow. But there’s even more.

1. The Death of a Son

Did you catch that I just said that he had ‘five children’? We know that his four daughters drowned at sea; but what about the fifth? Many resources state that a years prior to the ocean tragedy, the Spaffords lost their four-year old son to scarlet fever.

2. The Loss of His Business

Then a year later, there was the great Chicago fire of 1871 that burned most of the city. Spafford was a wealthy lawyer who had much of his money invested in real estate. When the city went up in smoke, so did much of Spafford’s wealth.

Yet Ho­ra­tio Spafford did not give up on God or on life. He took the talents God had given him and helped rebuild the city. Not only that, he helped rebuild the lives of people.

C. Whatever My Lot, Thou Has Taught Me to Say

Another great Christian man once wrote something about God in both the good and the bad times.

Philippians 4:10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. 12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

‘I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.’ Ho­ra­tio Spafford wrote –

Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Elizabeth Elliot, who lost her husband as a missionary, in commenting on this song – said:

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.

What is “my lot?” Well, it’s anything that comes by the powers that rule my destiny. Whatever happens to me in other words–whatever befalls. But to a Christian, my lot is a divine assignment. Where would I get that idea? From Psalms 16:5, it says, “Lord you have assigned me my portion and my cup and have made my lot secure.” In other words, that nothing happens to me by chance or by accident. There are no chances and no accidents to a child of God. It is assigned that which befalls, that which happens, that which comes by the powers that rule my destiny, a share, a portion, an assignment divinely allotted.  (www.backtothebible.org/index.php/Gateway-to-Joy/God-s-Assignment-and-the-Grace-to-Accept.html)

Horatio Spafford wrote – ‘Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say…’ What we need to learn as God’s children is that Christ is to be our source of strength, regardless the situation. If you are living in abundance, don’t forget that Christ is your source of strength, and not your abundance. If you are living in poverty, don’t forget that Christ is still your source of strength, and not your circumstances.

II. Christ Has Regarded My Helpless Estate

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

A. Though Satan Should Buffet

Do you suppose Satan attacked the Spaffords after this tragedy, or do you think that he showed them mercy and left them alone? I can assure you that he attacked and no doubt even more furiously. The second stanza begins with –

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come

Much like Job, Simon Peter, the apostle Paul, the Lord Jesus and every saint who seeks to live for God – Satan roams about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

Satan did attack the Spaffords. Here is something I read concerning Anna Spafford, the wife of Horatio and mother of the children.

Her first reaction was one of utter despair. Indeed, it is reported the other survivors looked after her on the way to Wales as they feared she might take her life. However, at a point Anna Spafford said a voice spoke softly to her soul, saying, “You were spared for a purpose!” She then remembered the words of a friend, “It’s easy to be grateful and good when you have so much, but take care that you are not a fair-weather friend to God.”

One can only imagine how the devil must have attacked them. 

B. Let This Blest Assurance Control

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,

I’m not for sure what scripture the Spirit used to comfort him, but as I meditated upon his words, a portion from Romans 8 came to my mind.

Romans 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. 37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. 38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present , nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I find it interesting that Paul asks ‘who shall separate us from the love of Christ’ and then he continues to list not people, but problems. Tribulation, distress, persecution, and famine. Perhaps our clue to why he did this is found in vs. 38 and following.

38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present , nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature …

What are the angels and principalities and creatures that he is referring to? We learn from Ephesians 6

Ephesians 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

We learn from the book of Job that behind many of the difficulties of our lives is the scheming of the devil. Why then doesn’t the Lord stop him? Why did Jesus give Satan permission to sift Peter like wheat? Horatio Spafford tells us

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,

Though Satan and all of his trials should attack me, let this truth be in control of my life and my emotions –

That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

Continuing in this thought Spafford wrote –

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!

II. Lord, Haste the Day

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 reported that Horatio Spafford was a serious student of the Bible and the words to his hymn verify it. The biblical principles that he pulls together are astounding. Time will not allow us to look at all the references, but let me call your attention to one in particular.

1 Thessalonians 4:13 But I would not have you to be ignorant , brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep . 16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

A. We Know Where They Are At

14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.

Where are out loved ones who have died in the Lord? The Bible teaches us that their bodies are asleep in the ground, awaiting the sound of the trumpte and the resurrection. Their souls are at home with the Lord.

Shortly after my dad died, the devil began to fill my mind with doubt about this. I began to wonder – “Is it all real? Is my dad actually in heaven? Or is he somewhere is some dark place?” Then the Spirit brought to my mind that Jesus told the thief on the cross – ‘today thou shalt be with me in paradise.’ Paul said – ‘to be absent from the body and present with the Lord.’

Even though we miss our loved ones greatly, it is good to know that if they knew the Lord as their Savior, they are at home with the Lord.

B. We Know What Will Happen to Their Bodies

When a believer dies, their soul goes to be with the Lord, while their body is buried in the ground. And there it will sleep until it is awakened by the sound of the trumpet. It is reported that the place where the ship sank, the ocean is three miles deep. Yet the Bible teaches us that both the grave and the sea will give up the dead that are in them. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, their bodies will be raised and changed into one like that of the Lord Jesus.

16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:

C. We Know That We Will See Them Again

17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

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.

Conclusion

It was because of his unwavering faith in these truths that Horatio Spafford did not disintegrate with the death of his children. It was only because he believed that God would be with him, no matter what; that nothing would ever separate him from God’s love; and that one day he would see his children again, that he was able to go forward and be used by God. It was only by his faith in God that he was able to say –

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

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