When I think of people in biblical and living history who presented a courageous attitude right in the face of a failed situation, there are usually few that come to mind. However, I will like to share with you the story of a man who displayed a rare and courageous attitude before failure and made generational impact from it. Below is my personalized summary of the courageous life of Horatio Gates Spafford:
Born on October 20, 1828, the young Horatio, the son of an eminent historian and horticulturist, grew to become a scholar, winning scholastic and literary prizes, became a lawyer, and later, through Dwight L. Moody, discovered a new spiritual frontier- Christ; which he said, ‘makes nothing else matters to him’. On Sept 5, 1861, he got married to Anna, a marriage filled with high expectation of God’s promises, and so it was for the couple as God blessed them with four daughters.
However, the peace never stayed long. In 1871, a fire broke out in Chicago (Great fire of 1871). It was a miracle that his house and family were not affected, but the fire succeeded in devastating his life investment, his beautiful legal office where hundreds of legal books he had collected throughout the years lay in ashes save a fire-proof safe.
In a bid to aid his wife’s health, which had begun to deteriorate after the fire outbreak, he yielded to the advice of their family’s physician who suggested that they go on extended vacation. So this loving father and husband made a quick travelling arrangement, bought ticket for his family on the Grand S.S Ville du Havre, a French Liner considered the most magnificent ship in existence then to convey them to France, hoping to join them as soon as he closed a land deal.
Eleven (11) days after the departure, while expecting a cable from France notifying him of their safe landing, he received a cable from his wife from Wales. At this point, Horatio became apprehensive and asked, “Wales! Why weren’t Anna and the children not in France?” A cold hand squeezed his heart; he tore it open and read the two- word messaged from Anna: “Saved alone”. Alas! All four of his little girls perished in an incomprehensible wreck of the Ville du Havre.
Days later; standing at the point where the ship and the bodies of his precious daughters sank, Horatio dug into his pocket and pulled out a piece of hotel stationery and pencil. He began to scrawl words that flowed from his head in a torrent of pain and faith:
When peace, like a river, attended 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”.
As if that wasn’t enough; as they began to recover back their lost fertile years, in Nov. 16, 1876 and March 1878, they had a son and daughter respectively; rejoicing with this ‘better-off’ recovery. They never knew what hung in the bleak future for them. While on a business trip, he received a telegraph from his wife about a fever scarlet break-out affecting almost all the children in the environs, his 4 year old son and 2 year old daughter inclusive, and then he immediately rushed home, only to meet his children in the cold hand of death and before long his beloved four year old son closed his eyes to death. Nothing could really be worse!
Although darkness threatened H.G.S. at every turn, his heart sang, “It is well with my soul”. When he wrote this hymn, he had no idea his daughter, yet unborn would one day sing these words to young soldiers of all nationalities in Jerusalem suffering through their last hours of life. He did not know his words would inspire Christians throughout the 20th century and beyond with their powerful messages of God’s sovereignty and his love. Horatio only knew he could not stop the flow of praise from his own heart as he mourned and worshipped.