Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:18–21)
In 1873, a man received a message from his wife, who had sailed with their four daughters to Europe, where he had planned to meet them soon. The note read, “Saved alone . . . .” She and the girls had been in a terrible collision at sea and their ship had gone down. All four daughters died. It was just the latest awful news in three horrifying years for the family. They had lost their son in 1870, and then a massive fire ruined them financially the next year, all before the horrors of the accident at sea.
The man was Horatio Spafford, and as he crossed the sea to meet his grieving wife, he penned the words,
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? What could anchor the mind and heart of a man in tragedies like these and free him to sing “well” when everything he had was lost?
The Hope in Spafford’s Hymn
“The key to suffering well for Horatio Spafford was Christ.”
The key to suffering well, at least for Horatio Spafford, was Christ. This father had met, and loved, and enjoyed, and worshiped the man, his Savior, Jesus Christ. And that love was able to carry him across the most violent waves of life. He knew the heart of Philippians 1:21, where Paul — a man who suffered more than most — wrote, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
This Christ, the Son of God, humbled himself to become a flesh-and-bones man, like you or me (Philippians 2:7). And being a man — an innocent, sinless man — he humbled himself further to die a sinner’s death in our place on a cross (Philippians 2:8). He shed his own blood for my soul. His broken body and poured-out blood paid the debt for my crimes. In the sacrifice of Jesus, my sin — not in part, but the whole — is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more.
Now, the last note in every loss is joy, because nothing — no news, no one, no event, no loss — can take Christ and his love from me. Not even death. When I close these eyes for the very last time, that moment of greatest, deepest loss will be “Gain.” And Lord haste the day when my faith shall be sight. We can have peace, and faith, and even joy when we lose everything, because we never lose everything. Regardless of what happens here on this earth, we’ll spend eternity enjoying the God who became like us, gave his life for us, rescued us from our sin, and delivers us to a full and never-ending life.
Is It Well?
God has given us a merciful gift in music authored in the midst of great tragedy. A song often has the power to express and comfort pain when words alone feel empty. Again and again, “It Is Well” has met and carried saints through the worst kinds of suffering, reminding us of the deep, abiding, sovereign “Well” at the bottom of our joy and life.
“The last note in every loss is joy, because nothing can take Christ and his love from me.”
Have you known that kind of peace in the midst of chaos in your life? Have you felt God’s love when you’ve walked through a tragedy? Is there something big and strong and comforting at the bottom of your responses to discouragement, disappointment, and loss?
In Christ, it can be well for you whatever the circumstance. He died for you. He sympathizes with your pain. He stays with you. And he promises to deliver you to himself, where he will forever guard you perfectly from sin, death, suffering, and grief.
Desiring God partnered with Shane & Shane’s The Worship Initiative to write short meditations for more than one hundred popular worship songs and hymns. The Worship Initiative is an online platform devoted to training musicians for songwriting and worship leading.
This meditation was written to accompany the song “It Is Well,” which is included in The Worship Initiative, Volume 4.