The story behind one of my favorite Gospel hymns is recounted in James Boice’s commentary on John. If you aren’t familiar with the history, take a moment to read.
“In 1874 a French steamer called the Ville du Havre was on a homeward voyage from America when a collision with a sailing vessel took place. The damage to the steamer was considerable, and as a result it sank quickly with the loss of nearly all who had been on board. One passenger, Mrs. Horatio G. Spafford, the wife of a lawyer in Chicago, had been en route to Europe with her four children. On being informed that the ship was sinking she knelt with her children and prayed that they might be saved or, if not, that they might be willing to die, if that was God’s will.
When the ship went down, the children were all lost. Mrs. Spafford was rescued by a sailor who had been rowing over the spot where the ship had sunk and found her floating in the water. Ten days later, when she reached Cardiff, she sent her husband the message: “Saved alone.”
This was a great blow, a sadness hardly comprehensible to anyone who has not lost a child. But though a great shock, it did not destroy the peace that either of the parents, who were both Christians, had from Jesus.
Spafford wrote as a testimony to the grace of God in his experience:
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.
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.
This is the meaning of the Christian’s peace. It is not an absence of conflict or any other kind of trial or disappointment. Rather it is contentment and trust in God in spite of such circumstances.”
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:27).
Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John: An expositional commentary (1241–1242). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.