Learning to Say “It is Well” (Part 4)

25 01 2008

Heaven CrossWhen we lose our earthly blessings, whether that takes the form of financial losses or losses of far greater weight (like a spouse or a child or friend), those losses remind us of the fleeting nature of this world.  We find ourselves confronted with the question, “What is there in this would that we can really cling to?”  In those moments, we see very clearly that this life and all its blessings are so fragile.  And this assesment lines up with the Scripture.  Repeatedly God tells us that our lives and the earthly facets of them are nothing more than a vapor, a flower which blossoms and then fades away.  However, God doesn’t tell us these things to make us feel depressed or discouraged.  He is simply reminding us that this world is not our home and our hope doesn’t rest here.

That this truth was on Horatio Spafford’s mind as he grieved the loss of his four daughters is clear from the last two verses of his great hymn, It is Well with My Soul.  Today, as we finish up this series of posts reflecting on his hymn, we will discover the hymn writer’s final secret for learning to say: “It is well with my soul.”

In the final two verses of his hymn, Spafford directed his attention to heaven- to glory. Look at what he writes:

But, Lord, ‘tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh trump of the angel! Oh voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!

And 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.

Do you notice how he begins?  He begins by reminding himself of the goal- it is not the grave, but the sky.  If the grave was the end (the “goal”), then this life would be everything- it would be all that we had. And when we lost something here, it would be truly tragic. But heaven (or the “sky”) is our goal, we live beyond this life, so the tragedies of this life need to be put in perspective.  We need to see them in light of eternity.

But what does that mean, to see them in the light of eternity?

Well, first it means the difficulties of this life should make us long for our home, our true home, even more.  I love the book The Pilgrim’s Progress. In the story, Christian (the main character in part 1) is heading to the Celestial City.  Every thing in his life is viewed in perspective of that destination- his whole life is seen as a journey to the Celestial City.  Each time I read through Bunyan’s wonderful allegory, I’m reminded of how Christian’s perspective and mine often don’t match up.  He is focused on the prize; often I get distracted.  This is something that cannot be stressed enough: we too need to be people who see every event, every aspect of our life, as simply part of our journey on our way to glory.  We need to be just like Christian.  And then, when difficulties arise in our life, they should be seen in light of our goal and they will make us long for the end of the journey even more. 

Horatio’s last two verses exude this longing, this desire to be home- to have faith become sight.  But living with an eternal perspective is more than just a longing to be home.  Horatio isn’t singing about looking forward to his death as though his desire was only to be done with this world; he is looking forward to going home to be with Christ when Christ returns. And this is an important distinction. 

Living with an eternal perspective means a desire to be home in glory, but it also means living with a desire for Christ to come.  Make note of this: Horatio sees Christ, not death, as his deliverer. 

Look again at his final verse:

And 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.

He desires to go home, but the desire is grounded in a desire for the Lord to come- for Christ to be The Deliverer. And this tells us something about Horatio’s perspective on life, his perspective that gave him the ability to say “it is well.”

First, this perspective of Christ as the Deliverer reveals that Horatio understood there was something wrong with the world. Now this seems pretty obvious, especially after the tragic losses he had experienced.  But often, when we are surprised by tragedy in our life -when we are overcome with the question “Why?”- it is because we have lost sight of this truth.  There is something wrong with the world.  We are a long way from Eden.  Sin (and its destructive force) has been unleashed on our world and things are not the way they are supposed to be.

Horatio hadn’t shut his eyes to this truth; he understood it, but (and this is so very important) he also understood that when Christ comes every thing will be made right. There is coming a day when Christ will return and rule and the world will finally have peace. There will come a new heaven and a new earth and death and sorrow and pain will be gone!  And it is upon this event that Spafford fixed his attention, in the midst of his trial, when he wrote”  But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait.”

Horatio reminds us that knowing there is coming a day when everything will be made right, we can have peace even in the midst of our trials.  We can know that they are not the end and one day the Savior will return and everything will be as it should be.  Our trials should make us long for home, but even more they should make us long for the Deliverer who will come and transform this world of ruin into a world of rejoicing.  Our trials should lead us to echo the words of John the Apostle: “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).  And knowing that He is coming, as we wait, we can say “It is well.”  

As I have worked through this series of posts, my prayer has been that if and when trials and difficulties (even tragedies) strike my life I would respond like Horatio Spafford- that I would respond biblically.

My prayer is that I would allow the tragedy to lead me to the cross that I might see my greatest burden removed, that I would allow it to lead me to Christ and remind me that my life is not about me but about him, and that ultimately the tragedy would lead me to fix my attention on glory, reminding me of my true home and building in me a longing for the return of my Savior- the One who will make all the wrongs right.

I pray that God will give you the same desire; that when difficulties arise, you will join with our brother Horatio in singing “Even so, It is well with my soul.”

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2 responses

25 01 2008
Robert Mullen

What a great series Ryan. I had no idea of the real life events behind the hymn and to say they are something to model our lives after is an understatement. I have a long way to go in this regard but what a great inspiration this is.

Thank you!

25 01 2008
Stephanie

It Is Well is my absolute favorite hymn. It is so full of theology, joy, and praise. It is so amazing how the joy of the Lord is so evident in the lives of those who go through such terrible sorrows. I really, truely hope I never have to go through anything so painful, but if I do, I hope that it would be something that would grow me so close to the Lord like it did for Horatio Spafford and that he would be glorified through my testimony. And yes, Lord please haste the Day when the trump shall resound!

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