Why We Sing: It Is Well
“Why We Sing” is a new weekly blog series sharing why we use the songs we do in our worship gathering. Our hope is that this will help you engage more deeply with your heart, mind, and body in worshipping God through these songs.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
“It Is Well” is a classic hymn written by Horatio Stafford. The events leading to the writing of the hymn are well know. The hymn was written in response to the tragic deaths of Horatio Stafford’s four daughters who died when the ship on which they were sailing to vacation in France sank. Stafford began writing the song on his voyage to his wife, who had survived the shipwreck that killed their daughters.
How was Stafford able to respond to the death of his four daughters with the statement “It is well with my soul”? His suffering was of a depth that few of us could imagine. The death of his daughters was senseless. Imagine how helpless he must have felt as he was thousands of miles away, unable to protect his daughters. We would understand if he would respond with depression and anger, but instead he chose to respond by clinging to the good and gracious work and character of Jesus. “It Is Well” is not a song about how we have settled our own souls in the face of adversity. It is not a song about how strongly we are able to exercise faith in God. It is not a song meant to make us marvel at the strength of Horatio Stafford’s character and response to suffering. When Stafford writes lines like: “Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and has shed his own blood for my soul” and “my sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more” he is expressing that Christ’s work, Christ’s effort is the only thing that sustains a person through the deep suffering of life. “It is Well” expresses the heart of Psalm 46:1-3, that the nature of God “our refuge and strength” is the only reason we are able to hope, survive, and continue trusting God in the midst of suffering. Stafford chooses to respond to his suffering not by powering through in his own strength, or shutting down and ignoring his pain, but by focusing on the good character of God expressed through the saving work of Christ.
This is why we sing “It Is Well”, because it calls us to make the character of God and the work of Christ the core of our emotional, mental, and physical response to the pains and joy of life. When we suffer, our suffering tends to become the biggest thing in our hearts, the thing we think about the most. “It Is Well” shapes us to make God, in His perfect, gentle, and just character the focus of our hearts.
- Matt Oakes, Music Pastor
1 When peace like a river attendeth 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."
It is well with my soul;
it is well, it is well with my soul.
2 Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control:
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and has shed his own blood for my soul.
3 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!
4 O 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.