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When Peace like a River

Full Text

1 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."

It is well with my soul;
it is well, it is well with my soul.

2 Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control:
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and has shed his own blood for my soul. [Refrain]

3 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! [Refrain]

4 O 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]

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Scripture References

Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Further Reflections on Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Difficult times occur in the lives and communities of God’s people because this is a fallen world. The confessions demonstrate this perspective:

  • Belgic Confession, Article 15 teaches that “…by the disobedience of Adam original sin has been spread through the whole human race…a corruption of the whole human nature...” As a result, God’s people are “guilty and subject to physical and spiritual death, having become wicked, perverse, and corrupt in all [our] ways” (Article 14). In addition, “The devils and evil spirits are so corrupt that they are enemies of God and of everything good. They lie in wait for the church and every member of it like thieves, with all their power, to destroy and spoil everything by their deceptions” (Article 12).
  • Our World Belongs to God continues to affirm that “God has not abandoned the work of his hands,” nevertheless “our world, fallen into sin, has lost its first goodness...” (paragraph 4). And now “all spheres of life—family and friendship, work and worship school and state, play and art—bear the wounds of our rebellion” (paragraph 16).

Yet, in a fallen world, God’s providential care is the source of great assurance, comfort and strength. Through these thoughts, our trust in God is inspired.

  • Belgic Confession, Article 13 is a reminder that God’s providence reassures us that God leads and governs all in this world “according to his holy will…nothing happens in this world without his orderly arrangement.” Further, this Confession identifies that this “gives us unspeakable comfort since it teaches us that nothing can happen to us by chance but only by the arrangement of our gracious heavenly Father, who watches over us with fatherly this thought we rest.”
  • Belgic Confession, Article 13, is a reminder that much is beyond human understanding and so “we do not wish to inquire with undue curiosity into what God does that surpasses human understanding and is beyond our ability to comprehend.”
  • In Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 9, Question and Answer 26 we testify that we “trust God so much that [we] do not doubt that he will provide whatever [we] need for body and soul and will turn to [our] good whatever adversity he sends upon [us] in this sad world.”
  • In Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 10, Question and Answer 28, we are assured that through our trust in the providence of God we can have “good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing in creation will separate us from his love.”
  • When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we ask not to be brought into the time of trial but rescued from evil. In doing so we ask that the Lord will “uphold us and make us strong with the strength of your Holy Spirit so that we may not go down to defeat in this spiritual struggle...” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 52, Question and Answer 127)

Belgic Confession, Article 26 speaks about the intercession of Christ as the ascended Lord. “We have no access to God except through the one and only Mediator and Intercessor, Jesus Christ the Righteous.” We, therefore, do not offer our prayers as though saints could be our intercessor, nor do we offer them on the “basis of our own dignity but only on the basis of the excellence and dignity of Jesus Christ, whose righteousness is ours by faith.” Because Jesus Christ is our sympathetic High Priest, we approach the throne “in full assurance of faith.”


No greater assurance can be found than that expressed in Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 1, Question and Answer 1: “I am not my own by I belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.”

In all difficult times, we eagerly await the final day when God “will set all things right, judge evil, and condemn the wicked” (Our World Belongs to God, paragraph 57).


When Peace like a River

Additional Prayers

Ascended Lord, we praise you.
In your death you utterly wiped out the damning evidence
of broken laws and commandments that always hung over our heads.
You completely annulled it by nailing it over your head on the cross.
In your resurrection you gave us new life, free life, full of new possibilities.
In your ascension you paraded sin and death behind you
in your triumphal procession.
You are our guarantee of victory.
You are our guarantee because you went through everything
we struggle with and triumphed over all evil.
What you did, you promised to help us do.
You will always be with us—not merely with sympathy but also with power.
You are our guarantee because it is truly “one of us”
who now governs as ruler of time and space.
This too gives us confidence and courage for the future.
You are our guarantee because, in going away,
you released the Spirit on us.
You are not distant from us but closer to us than ever before.
The current of the Spirit works over and through us endlessly.
It seeps and trickles into all the depths of heart and mind and will
so that truly we are like trees planted by water.
We bear fruit in season, our leaves do not wither,
and all that we do turns out well.
We bring our hopes, our needs, our desires to you.
We are confident of access because you are “one of us.”
We are confident of answers because you are the ruler of the universe.
Yours is the name above every other name,
the name before which every knee bows and every tongue confesses,
“You are Lord,” to the glory of God.
Hear our prayers and accept our praises.
May they rise like sweet-smelling incense before you
from lives that are like altars set ablaze by the fire of the Spirit. Amen.
—based on Psalm 1:3; Ephesians 2:5-6; Colossians 2:12-15; Philippians 2:10-11
[Reformed Worship 15:34]
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

When Peace like a River

Hymn Story/Background

Late in 1873 Horatio G. Spafford and his family were scheduled to travel from the United States to Europe. Delayed by pressing business, Spafford sent his wife and daughters ahead on the French liner Ville du Havre. The ship collided with the English ship Lochearn on November 22 and sank in just twelve minutes. Spafford's wife was saved, but his daughters perished. After arriving in Wales, Mrs. Spafford cabled her husband, "Saved alone." Spafford then left by boat to meet her. Near the tragic scene on the high seas he wrote this text. Upon hearing the news, evangelist Dwight L. Moody, a friend of the Spaffords, traveled to England to comfort them. He reported that Spafford said about the tragic event, "It is well; the will of God be done." Philip P. Bliss, another family friend, wrote the tune for Spafford's text. Both text and tune were published in Gospel Hymns No. 2 (1876), a hymnal compiled by Ira D. Sankey and Bliss.
The text conveys a sense of trust and ultimate peace with God's plan for our lives. Even in the face of "sorrows" and Satan's temptations, the Christian believes "it is well with my soul" (st. 1-2). That experience of trust and peace derives from knowing with certainty that Christ has paid the penalty for "my sin, not in part, but the whole" (st. 3).The final stanza affirms that it will also be "well with my soul" on the great day of Christ's return. This hymn has brought comfort to many Christians.
The gospel tune by Philip Bliss was named after the ship on which his friends died; VILLE DU HAVRE (also called IT IS WELL) is best sung in harmony throughout. The refrain may be sung only once–after stanza 4 as a final testimony. Use a moderate organ accompaniment to support confident singing of this testimonial hymn.
— Bert Polman

Author Information

In 1856, several years before writing this text, Horatio G. Spafford (b. North Troy, NY, 1828; d. Jerusalem, 1888) had moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he established a law practice and became a professor of medical jurisprudence at Lind University (now the Chicago Medical College). Active in the YMCA and as a Sunday school teacher, he served as director and trustee for the Presbyterian Theological Seminary of the Northwest in Chicago. Spafford became acquainted with Dr. Piazza Smith, a Scottish astronomer, and through him became interested in biblical archeology. Heavy losses in the Chicago fire of 1871, the death of his four daughters in 1873, and the death of his son in 1880 caused Spafford to be accused of some secret sin by uncharitable church members. In 1881 he, his wife, and some friends moved to Jerusalem and founded an American colony there; the family's story was told by another daughter, Bertha Spafford Vester, in Our Jerusalem.
— Bert Polman

Composer Information

Philip P. Bliss (b. Clearfield County, PA, 1838; d. Ashtabula, OH, 1876) left home as a young boy to make a living by working on farms and in lumber camps, all while trying to continue his schooling. He was converted at a revival meeting at age twelve. Bliss became an itinerant music teacher, making house calls on horseback during the winter, and during the summer attending the Normal Academy of Music in Genesco, New York. His first song was published in 1864, and in 1868 Dwight L. Moody advised him to become a singing evangelist. For the last two years of his life Bliss traveled with Major D. W. Whittle and led the music at revival meetings in the Midwest and Southern United States. Bliss and Ira D. Sankey published a popular series of hymn collections entitled Gospel Hymns. The first book of the series, Gospel Songs, was published in 1874. Near the end of 1876, Philip P. Bliss and his wife were traveling to Chicago to sing for the evangelistic services led by Daniel W. Whittle at Dwight L. Moody's Tabernacle. But a train wreck and fire en route claimed their lives.
— Bert Polman
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