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Summary: This is a Hymnology Sermon Series teaching the stories behind some of the most beloved hymns found in our hymnals.

(Facts compiled from “52 Hymn Stories Dramatized,” and “Living Stories of Famous Hymns,” as well as extensive internet search. It is done with two people speaking back and forth. The video we used can be purchased from bluefishtv.)

NIV James 1:12

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

“It is Well with My Soul”

We are continuing our February sermon series called “Hymnology 101.” We are spending this entire month looking at some of the most famous hymns that we so often take for granted. Every song in our hymnal has a history, every song has a profound story behind it, and every song is rich with God’s love and inspiration. As we learn the history behind these songs, it is our hope… that we look to every song we sing… with more dedication, more understanding, and more focus on worshiping our God. Today’s Hymn comes to us from the nearby reaches of Chicago.

Pastor: A new style of sacred music known as the “gospel song” appeared during the last half of the nineteenth century. This type of music developed with the ministries of Christian leaders like Dwight L. Moody, who conducted city-wide evangelistic crusades in the United States and Great Britain.

Josh: Ira Sankey, Mr. Moody’s song leader and associate for nearly 30 years, described this new style of sacred music as songs that were “calculated to awaken the careless,… to melt the hardened,… and to guide inquiring souls to Jesus Christ.” Many of these songs were written as a result of some sudden inspiration or after a dramatic human experience.

Pastor: A gospel song of this type is our featured hymn for this service. The words grew out of a series of bitter hardship and tragedies suffered by the author, Horatio Spafford. It is a hymn that still expresses well the personal testimony of every devout believer.

Josh: The music for this familiar and well-loved gospel hymn, “It is Well with My Soul,” was composed by Philip P. Bliss, a noted gospel song writer, musician and a member of the Moody-Sankey evangelistic team. Bliss recalls the almost unbelievable series of events that led to the creation of this song:

Pastor: Bliss wrote, “Many wonderful associations with friends who supported our evangelistic work developed as time went on. One such individual who contributed generously to the campaigns, both spiritually and financially, was Horatio Spafford, a very successful attorney and businessman here in Chicago, a devout Christian and a faithful member of the Presbyterian Church. He and I became very close friends.”

Josh: The Spaffords had five lovely children. In 1870, however, their only son became ill and with very little warning… died suddenly.

Pastor: Then a short time later a devastating fire broke out in Chicago, destroying much of the Lake Michigan shoreline property, including most of Mr. Spafford’s extensive real estate investments.

Josh: About this same time, Mr. Moody and Ira Sankey left for Great Britain to conduct another evangelistic campaign. Desiring to assist them with this endeavor and hoping that his saddened family might be encouraged by such a trip, Horatio made arrangements for all of his family to sail to Europe.

Pastor: At the last minute, however, some unexpected urgent business matters detained Mr. Spafford. He sent on as scheduled his wife and four daughters – Tanetta, Maggie, Annie and Bessie – promising to join them as soon as possible. They boarded a French liner, the “S.S. Ville du Havre.” It was the most luxurious ship afloat when it sailed from New York that November.

Josh: Several days after setting sail, they were sailing on a quiet sea when they collided with an English sailing vessel, the “Lochearn.” Within moments, the Ville du Havre, the largest ship afloat… began to sink.

Pastor: Spafford was still in Chicago. He had completed his business affairs and eagerly prepared to rejoin his family in Europe. As he was busily packing, there was a knock at the door and he was handed a cable from his wife which read simply – “Saved Alone. What Shall I Do?”

Spafford’s dear friend Philip Bliss wrote that it was “the saddest day of my life… our Chicago papers carried these shocking headlines:”

Josh: “The tragic shipwreck of the S.S. Ville Du Havre today claimed the lives of four daughters of Chicago’s prominent attorney, Horatio Spafford. Only his wife saved – now in Cardiff, Wales. Hundreds more lost at sea. City mourns this tragedy.”

Pastor: The papers also gave more details about the event. The large ship sank in only twelve minutes. 226 people total were lost at sea. Mrs. Spafford had miraculously escaped and was now waiting for her grief-stricken husband to join her in Wales.

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