Testimony Peace Like A River   



In the 1870's there lived a man by the name of Horatio Spafford.  He was a wealthy Chicago lawyer with a successful law practice and had invested wisely in downtown real estate.   Horatio was a prominent church leader and a good friend of Evangelist Dwight L. Moody (founder of the Moody Bible Institute).  He was well known, influential and very true to his faith. 


In 1871, at the age of forty three he suffered complete financial disaster in the Great Chicago fire.  Right before the fire, he and his wife had lost their son.  This was only the beginning of Horatio's problems.  Spafford and his wife, Anna, dedicated themselves to helping those who had been impoverished by the devastation of their city.  After years of helping others, they were exhausted and decided to take a vacation.  His good friend Moody and his music associate, Ira Sankey, left for Great Britain for an evangelistic campaign.  Horatio decided to lift the spirits of his family by taking them on a vacation to Europe and he had planned to assist his friend Moody in his evangelistic tour.   


In 1873, he planned a trip to Europe with his wife and four daughters, but he was delayed by urgent last minute business.  He sent his wife and daughters on a French luxury liner (the largest and most luxurious in the world) called the SS Ville du Havre, and kissed them good-bye, promising to rendezvous with them within a few weeks.  As soon as he could settle his business affairs.

For some reason that he was unable to explain, at the last moment he changed their stateroom from amidships to near the bow of the vessel.  Anna sailed with the girls, and halfway to Europe, an English sailing ship (called Lochearn) collided with their ship amidships.  Had they been in their original stateroom, all would have died instantly.   Anna and the four girls (Tanetta, Maggie, Annie and Bessie ) were cast into the black dark sea.  She frantically tried to save them all but although she briefly grasped the hem of the nightgown of one of them, they all slipped away.  Horatio's wife Anna was discovered floating unconscious on a piece of wreckage and was rescued.  The ship had sunk within twelve minutes and of the two hundred and twenty six on board, only forty seven were rescued. 


Back in Chicago, Spafford received a heart-breaking telegram which consisted of only two words: "Saved Alone."  Immediately, he sailed to Europe to console his wife.  He had asked the Captain to notify him when they had reached the point where the Ville du Havre went down. 

The Captain called Spafford to the bridge of the ship and said, "According to my calculations, we are now passing over the place where your children drowned."  Later, Horatio walked the deck in his sorrow and his faith was the only thing that sustained him.  He was overtaken by a feeling of peacefulness as he realized that he would see his daughters again in heaven.  As he watched the waves rolling on the ocean he seemed to recall the words of the prophet Isaiah 66:12, "For thus says the Lord, I will extend peace to her like a river…"  Spafford received comfort from God that enabled him to write the words of this hymn: 


When peace, like a river, attended my way, When sorrow like sea billows roll, Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.                    

Chorus: It is well with my soul, it is well, It is well with my soul. Though Satan should buffet, Though trials should come, Let this blessed assurance control, That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate, And hath shed His own blood for my soul. My sin O the joy 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!  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. 


This man lost his business, his home and his children, yet he said to a friend, "I am glad I can trust the Lord when it costs me something."  When he was reunited with his wife, they embraced and she said, "We have not lost our children.  We are only separated for a little while."

Under such circumstances, such trials, such losses, such heartaches, such suffering how could they maintain such faithful composure.  There is only one true answer, that is that they knew in who they had believed in and they trusted the Lord that it was all for the best.  They were convinced in their hearts, of what it says in Romans 8:28a - We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love him. 


God knows everything, he knows why certain things happen.  We need to learn to trust him in everything.  As hard as it may seem to understand at the moment what he is doing, we need to be able to find comfort in him.  Maybe we can also say "When peace, like a river, attended my way, when sorrow like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul." 


In the circumstances which we have been confronted with since September 11th we need to be able to find peace like a river in God.  He is our only hope of comfort.  He is the only one that can give us strength in our weaknesses.  Like Isaiah 40:29 - 31 says, "He gives strength to those who are tired and more power to those who are weak.  Even children become tired and need to rest, and young people trip and fall.  But the people who trust the Lord will become strong again.  They will rise up as an eagle in the sky; they will run and not need rest; they will walk and not become tired."


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