When Mr. Moody and I were holding meetings in Edinburgh, in 1874, we heard the sad news of the loss of the French steamer, ”Ville de Havre,” on her return from America to France, with a large number of members of the Ecumenical Council, whose meetings had been held in Philadelphia. On board the steamer was a Mrs. Spafford, with her four children. In mid-ocean a collision took place with a large sailing vessel, causing the steamer to sink in half an hour. Nearly all on board were lost. Mrs. Spafford got her children out of their berths and up on deck. On being told that the vessel would soon sink, she knelt down with her children in prayer, asking God that they might be saved if possible; or be made willing to die, if that was his will. In a few minutes the vessel sank to the bottom of the sea, and the children were lost. One of the sailors of the vessel, named Lockurn—whom I afterward met in Scotland—while rowing over the spot where the vessel disappeared, discovered Mrs. Spafford floating in the water. Ten days later she was landed at Cardiff, Wales. From there she cabled to her husband, a lawyer in Chicago, the message, ”Saved alone. ”Mr. Spafford, who was a Christian, had the message framed and hung up in his office. He started immediately for England to bring his wife to Chicago. Mr. Moody left his meetings in Edinburgh and went to Liverpool to try to comfort the bereaved parents, and was greatly pleased to find that they were able to say: ”It is well; the will of God be done."
In 1876, when we returned to Chicago to work, I was entertained at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Spafford for a number of weeks. During that time Mr. Spafford wrote the hymn, ”It is well with my soul, ”in commemoration of the death of his children. P. P. Bliss composed the music and sang it for the first time at a meeting in Farwell Hall. The comforting fact in connection with this incident was that in one of our small meetings in North Chicago, a short time prior to their sailing for Europe, the children had been converted.
While still living in Chicago Mr. and Mrs. Spafford became much interested in the Second Coming of Christ. So zealous did Mr. Spafford become that he decided to go to Jerusalem with his wife and the one remaining daughter, and there await the coming of the Lord. Mr. Spafford died there not long afterward. Mrs. Spafford is the head of a society whose headquarters are in a building outside of Jerusalem, where a large number of people live, having all things in common. When I visited Jerusalem some years ago I met Mrs. Spafford on the Street of David. The next day I received a call from Miss Spafford, who is very popular among: the natives and has become the teacher for a large body of children, instructing them in English literature and in American ways.
This hymn was heard by a gentleman who had suffered great financial reverses in the panic of 1899, and who was in deepest despondency. When he learned the story of the hymn he exclaimed: ”If Spafford could write such a beautiful resignation hymn I will never complain again."