The peace of God that passes all understanding…

You’ve likely heard this story before. If not, you need to hear it. And if you have heard it, you need to hear it again! I had never seen these photos before. They really bring it home…

Horatio and Anna Spafford

This rather handsome couple were married in 1861, settled in Chicago and began raising a family of four beautiful daughters. Horatio was a devout Presbyterian Elder and a prominent Chicago attorney and businessman – until one unfortunate night when Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over a lantern and ignited “The Great Chicago Fire” of 1871. Spafford had invested heavily in Chicago’s urban real estate development, and was all but ruined – literally overnight.

Annie, Maggie, Bessie and Tanetta Spafford

Shortly thereafter, he decided to bring the family to England for a time, where his good friend DL Moody was preaching and teaching. (Moody’s church in Chicago had also been destroyed in the fire)  Horatio was delayed by business, but he sent Anna and the girls ahead on the steamer S.S. Ville du Havre.

Ville du Havre

At 2:00 a.m. on November 21, 1873, the S.S. Ville du Havre was accidentally rammed amidships by the Scottish Clipper Ship  Loch Earn, and she sank in less than 12 minutes – leading to the loss of 256 of the 300 souls onboard. Anna Spafford was picked up unconscious from a floating spar, but all four children were lost. Horatio recieved this tellegram from Anna, [“Saved alone. What shall I do.”].

Obviously, he immediately set off for England to be at Anna’s side. During this crossing, at the very place on the ocean where his four beloved, precious girls were lost, he penned this:

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.

(Refrain) 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 hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul. (Refrain)

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

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. (Refrain)

I think I could deal with about anything coming at me, but my children or grandchildren? That’s another matter.  It strikes me that Spafford’s extraordinary revelation of a deep, abiding peace and hope arising from a profoundly grieved and wounded soul, can only be explained by the presence of the Holy Spirit – who is among other things – our Comforter.  And this powerful testimony has ministered peace and comfort to me and untold numbers of Christians over the past 140 years.

Horatio Spafford was a Presbyterian Elder, and certainly understood the doctrine of the Divine Covenants we have been talking about.  Is there a theme of the “Covenant of Grace” written into Spafford’s “When Peace Like a River” hymn?  Is there perhaps also a shadow of the “Covenant of Works” in it? 

Where is the passage with “And the peace of God which passes all understanding…” found in Scripture?  What is the context?  What will this unfathomable peace do, and where can it be found?


3 responses to “The peace of God that passes all understanding…

  1. Covenant of Grace? ” that Christ hath regarded my helpless estate and has shed His own blood for my soul”. Could the Covenant of Grace be any better stated? Hard to imagine. This is a hymn of simple trust in a Sovereign God no matter what the circumstances. Many can testify of God’s peace through unbelievably difficult circumstances. Ought we not to trust Him in the simple daily things of life? The Covenant of Works might be seen in our determination to live for Christ, “for me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:” but this conviction, if true, is born out of Grace.

  2. one other comment, I was greatly pleased to see Spurgeon’s morning and evening devotion on this site. I have used that book over and over for years and it never grows old. It is as if God supernaturally applies many of the daily devotions to a particular issue, sin or struggle I am dealing with and I often hear God’s voice of comfort, correction or instruction through the words of his servant, Mr. Spurgeon. I Highly recommend this devotion as it has been one of the greatest blessing of my Christian life.

  3. Agree. I zeroed in on the same line – and the one just before it, ” …though trials should come, Let this blest assurance control.” I can see him looking out over those waves that claimed his girls, then, the assurance takes hold. The children are not at the bottom of the ocean…the promise is “…for you, and your children!” Those girls are in Jesus’ hands – no better place for them in the universe, and soon enough he will see them again. What a blessed reunion that must have been! Ironically – I got a sense of the Covenant of Works in the same verse, “…that Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,” His works were utterly useless to help him or his children.

    Re Spurgeon – I know we shouldn’t have “heros”, but in my estimation he was among the most gifted, powerful, yet genuinely humble pastors in church history. We worshipped at the Metropolitan Tabernacle once in London. It’s huge! CH was afraid he might lose his perspective with such a huge ministry, and all the associated honors and accolades, so he a kept a coffin leaned against the wall across from his desk to remind himself “…how important I really am.” Seems like it would have a chilling effect on counselling and such, but whatever works!

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