The Overcomers


I’ve only been at Kingwood United Methodist Church since May 1, 2019. During that time, we’ve had two different floods and, now, what would seem to be a plague of sorts. I’ve joked that I’m looking for the locusts and the frogs to show up next! While not trying to really make light of a very bad situation, I do think it’s good to keep a sense of levity, where appropriate.

One of the early anthems that we did with the KUMC Chancel Choir was the Rene Clausen It is Well with My Soul. The above video of the Wartburg Choir is where I first heard the piece and chose to lead the choir through the selection. It really stirred me. It’s quiet beginning, soaring lines and beautiful organ part helps the piece achieve an important connection — to truly reflect the intent of the text.

In the worship services at KUMC, I think it’s helpful for worshippers to know the history behind the hymns and their intent of usage for the service of the day, while not getting “preachy.” After all that’s the role of the clergy . . . LOL!

The hymn was composed by Horatio Spafford, a lawyer and Presbyterian elder. In 1871, Spafford lost his son to scarlet fever. To channel his grief, he dove into his work but the Great Chicago Fire caused him much financial strife. Within a couple of years, he wanted to take a European trip with his family. Seeking to recover financially, business obligations stopped him from leaving with them. So, he sent them ahead on a ship, the Ville du Havre, knowing he would join them after wrapping up his business requirements.

It would never happen. Tragedy would strike.

While at sea, the ship collided with another ship and sank. Spafford’s wife survived the ordeal but, horribly, his four daughters drowned. Word of the accident reached Spafford. His wife sent a telegram, “Saved alone. What shall I do?”

He wept.

Spafford quickly boarded a ship to travel and meet his wife. While en route, the captain of the ship ,upon which Spafford was aboard, came to his cabin and told him that they were passing very near where the accident that had taken the lives of his daughters had occurred. At that moment, as the ship went close to the spot, and on on the remains of his journey, he was inspired to pen these famous words . . .

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, (it is well),
With my soul, (with my soul)
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

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!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life,
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

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 the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
A song in the night, oh my soul!

Philip Bliss, an associate of evangelist Dwight L. Moody, composed a tune and named it Ville du Havre, after the ill-fated ship. In a blogpost, David Brenneman writes . . .

“When the Spaffords returned to Chicago they were surrounded by friends and family. One of those friends who came by to help comfort the Spaffords was Phillip Bliss, a vocalist and songwriter. As Bliss listened to Spafford’s poem he was deeply moved. At his home Bliss composed music for the poem, creating a song he called It Is Well with My Soul. Within weeks he was singing the new hymn at Moody’s crusades.”

After the tragedy, the Spaffords hosted prayer meetings in their homes. They would continue to meet, even after losing another daughter to scarlet fever at the age of three. They would eventually call their group “The Overcomers.”

This hymn has been a part of countless services of struggle, strife and tragedy. Several years ago when the AIDS epidemic was in full swing, I remember attending a worship service that was a gathering place for large numbers of the gay community. You can imagine the emotion and the power when, in full voice, the entire congregation sang the first verse at the close of Holy Communion . . .

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

I’ve also read of others using the hymn — a Vietnamese congregation in 1981 who had fled after the fall of Saigon; at 9/11; the Queensland Flooding in Australia in  2010 recorded by Hillsong, just to name a few.

I can’t help but reflect on our current circumstances, using this famous hymn as a focus point. Each days tumbles into the next with more uncertainty. We see photos of the loss of life in Italy. We see staggering numbers of sick and dying. Our economic numbers look rather dim and we wonder what more could happen.

Trust is hard when our experiences aren’t of strife. I can say I’ve lived a good and safe life, not wanting for much. Most of us weren’t alive to remember dire circumstances similar to that of the 1930s when things were scarce and living was hard. We are told, too, that things will probably get worse before they get better. What do we do? This is all new territory for us.

I heard a great quote from Chuck Swindoll, “God is not somewhat sovereign.” We trust in our God, who hears our cries and comforts us. It’s hard to trust in challenging times. But, trust we do. Let us remember the life of Horatio Spafford and how he persevered . . . let us be “overcomers” . . . all the while knowing  and singing that . . .

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

Wikipedia contributed to this blog.

Published by Matt

Creative Arts developer, planner, husband, and father. I direct choirs, make graphic art, and film, photograph and work daily to foster an experience with the Holy.

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