Have you ever been trying to maneuver through the bedroom, on your way to the bathroom, in the middle of the night? Sometimes I am blessed with safe passage, but too often I end up smashing my toe (or on a few occasion my head) into some undetected obstacle. In the midst of the darkness, the thought that dominates my thinking is “OUCH!” My focus is instantaneously drawn to the pain.
This natural reaction holds true beyond middle-of-the-night-crashes; this is usually how we respond to other collisions in our lives. When our happy expectations collide with an unseen tragic turn our response is often “OUCH!” and our mind rushes all attention to the source of the pain.
This is why Horatio Spafford’s words, recorded in his rich hymn, are so wondrously puzzling. He writes,
“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’.”
His call is beyond the “grin-and-bear-it” aproach to a smarting toe; this is something entirely “other worldly.” He says “whatever my lot,” and he was a man who knew about getting a bad lot (see part 1 of this article for Spafford’s story.) So, how do we get there? How did Horatio get there? After loosing his wealth and his family how could he still say “it is well with my soul?” This is the question I raised in part 1 of this series and today we’ll begin working through the testimony Horatio left us in his hymn, uncovering the bountiful grace that held him fast through the crashing waves of tragedy.
The first verse of his hymn focuses on the truth that God had taught Horatio to be content in whatever circumstance- whether peace or sorrow. It isn’t until the second verse that he begins to bring to light the “how?”. In the second verse he reveals this precious jewel: in the midst of his buffeting and trials, he put his focus on… the Cross.
Here is what he wrote:
Though Satan should buffet, tho’ trials should come, let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate and has shed his own blood for my soul.
Did you catch the jewel? Our brother reveals that he allows his affliction to be seen in light of the Cross. He doesn’t ignore the pain or try to just grunt through it (the way we might a stubbed toe). He confesses that we have an enemy who is on the attack, and that trials will come; He addresses the pain head on. But he does something else. He looks at it in the proper perspective. He looks at in relation to the Cross.
And what of the Cross? Notice what has captured Horatio’s attention. His focus is fixed on the victory of the Cross- on what the Cross did for Horatio and what it does for you and me.
Verse 2 ends with the picture of Christ pouring out his life (“his blood”) for the life of Horatio (“for my soul.”) Horatio, in the midst of his grief over his overwhelming loss, focuses on the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. Horatio is reminding himself of the overwhelming and gracious work of Christ to deliver him. (That’s something that will pour cold water on a growing bitterness towards God who allowed tragedy into your life; how can you blame the One who gave up His own life for you?!)
Scripture teaches that Christ died in our place. The Apostle Paul writes, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3). In 2 Corinthians he adds, “He [God the Father] made Him [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (5:21).
Here is the sparkling of this diamond, the treasure in our brother’s testimony: Horatio focuses not on his loss, but on his gain– that Christ paid for his sin! That is the thought he wants to control his mind when Satan buffets and when trials come; he wants his focus to be on the sacrifice of Christ for him.
Verse 2 of the song isn’t enough to contain Spafford’s wonder about this. Verse 2 leads into the glorious praise of verse 3. And here we see the truth of Christ’s work on Horatio’s behalf really celebrated.
“My sin- o 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!”
In the midst of great loss, Spafford is exploding in praise! “O the Bliss!”
(Warning! Conviction coming!) Is that the way we think of our salvation? Does it control our thoughts? Do we erupt in praise as we meditate and dwell on it? Do we erupt in praise in the midst of our trials?
This is exactly what our brother is doing! Remember he wrote this hymn while voyaging to grieve with his wife over the death of his four daughters.
Why don’t we erupt like our brother? Maybe it is because we don’t understand the gravity of our sin or the gravity of what was accomplished on the Cross. If we aren’t erupting in praise, we probably don’t feel the gravity the way Horatio did.
What is the gravity of my sin? Because of my sin, I should suffer for all eternity. The tragedies experienced in Horatio’s life (as awful as they were) pale in comparison to the tragedy of a soul in hell forever. That weight, the guilt of our sin, was upon each and every one of us, and if we are apart from Christ, it is still upon us.
But on the Cross that weight was dealt with- “Christ died for our sins!” And through faith in Christ, the weight of sin is removed- eternal judgment is removed- and eternal bliss is now guaranteed. How glorious is the Cross!!!
And it is upon the Cross, the glorious deliverance, that Horatio focuses. Horatio has allowed his temporary burden to lead him to focus on the removal of his eternal burden. He has viewed his pain in perspective of the Cross. What a powerful lesson. I praise God that this dear brother recorded it for us.
Lord willing, in the weeks ahead we will continue to explore the rich treasures found in this great hymn of the faith. Today, however, praise God that He has given us something of far more weight than our temporary pain; He has given us eternal salvation. And that gift gives us reason, whatever our lot, to say “It is well with my soul.”